Bears' 'Viewers Guide' to the Divisional Round


Bears' 'Viewers Guide' to the Divisional Round

The playoffs generally make for compelling viewing in Chicago even if the Bears are not in the games. But the state of their roster and head-coaching situations should raise the interest level in the 2012 postseason.

GM Phil Emery declared last week that his quest was for excellence in his coaching candidate. Some of that is organizational, as Emery said, but ultimately the only excellence that matters is on the field. That applies to coaches and players.

To enhance playoff viewing, has selected a small number of figures of note to keep an eye on during the weekends games. Some are current coaching candidates (How is this guys system working?); others are among the better free agents (How would this guy look in a Bears uniform?) in areas of need for the Bears offseason. For instance, the value of Bruce Arians may have been subtly evident last weekend when the Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator was hospitalized for the playoff game against Baltimore, in which the Colts never got into the end zone and lost.

Baltimore at Denver (Sat., 3:30 p.m.)

Ravens to review

Dannell Ellerbe, LB - The Bears went into 12 thin at linebacker and came out even thinner with Brian Urlachers status unclear. Nick Roach should be re-signed but the corps needs stocking and Ellerbe, who had nine tackles in the win over Indianapolis, has played both MLB and SLB at 6-1, 240, picking up 5.5 sacks this season.

Dennis Pitta, TE - The Bears have picked up restricted free agents in the past, but the question here is how highly the Ravens regard this restricted free agent and the tender on him. Best guess: very high, after 61 catches and seven TDs. But there are few pass-catching tight ends available at this level.

Broncos to browse

Mike McCoy, OC - The Baltimore defense is not what it was when Ray Lewis was in his prime. But the Ravens are about pressure, and how McCoy and Peyton Manning conspire to exploit a good unit will be a solid test for a head-coach hopeful.

RELATED: Papa Cutler's (lack of) role in Bears' coaching search

Ryan Clady, LT - Denver may never let Clady hit the market but he is the highest-rated available, according to Baltimores Paul Kruger was an edge-rushing force against Cincinnati and will be Cladys assignment.

Green Bay at San Francisco (Sat., 7 p.m.)

Packers to peruse

Tom Clements, OC - Mike McCarthy is the acknowledged coach of the offense so Clements role is always a little fuzzy to isolate. But hes part of the plan.

Aaron Rodgers, QB - Rodgers doesnt win every game he plays; it just seems that way when the game involves the Bears. The Bears need to figure out how other teams do it.

Niners to notice

Delanie Walker, TE - Vernon Davis is a foundation part of the offense but Walker is a consistent producer: averaging 20 rec. per year for the past six. Bears interest may be limited given that hes 6-1, 241, which is Evan Rodriguez-ian.

Seattle at Atlanta (Sun., noon)

Falcons to follow

Keith Armstrong, STC - Former Bears assistant Armstrong is in charge of Atlanta special teams and was among the first interviewees in the Bears search process. The Falcons have been solid but not at the Bears level on teams.

Sam Baker, LT - A thoroughbred from the USC OT tradition, Baker is old school, smaller (6-5, 301) than the preferred current prototype. But Matt Ryans blind side has been well protected and Baker has worked in a zone-blocking scheme.

Seahawks to survey

Darrell Bevell, OC - Somebody has brought rookie QB Russell Wilson along very nicely and Bevell is a name in play with the Bears. His head-coach opportunities have been sparse but Seattles offense has done more than just pound with Marshawn Lynch.

Alan Branch, DT - Branch is a massive (6-6, 325) interior player who does not fit the mold of Lovie Smith linemen. But he is a 4-3 fit who can dominate at the point, and if the Bears cannot retain Henry Melton, they will need interior help.

Houston at New England (Sun., 3:30 p.m.)

Texans to target

Rick Dennison, OC - The Texans offensive coordinator is on GM Phil Emerys candidate list. Houston is a run-based offense going against a Patriots front that controlled the Texans in their week 14 meeting. How Dennison schemes against in a rematch against one of the NFLs top defenses is a working interview.

Ryan Harris, RT - An under-the-radar right tackle, Harris allowed just two sacks playing 438 snaps in 2012. Harris 6-5, 300 pounds and a five-year veteran out of Notre Dame, already is a fit in a zone-blocking system that could come in with a new coach. Has had some health concerns and Derek Newton has had more playing time.

Patriots to ponder

Sebastian Vollmer, RT - Vollmer, 6-8, 315, is one of those draft hits that keep New England stocked. He was a No. 2 in 2009 and has been a quality starter at both tackles but has had some injury downtime that may be too much of a red flag. Hell see a lot of J.J. Watt for evaluation purposes and pass-pro is Vollmers strength.

Bears In-Foe: Vikings defense is Purple People Eaters, Part II

Bears In-Foe: Vikings defense is Purple People Eaters, Part II

It's bad enough that Jay Cutler will be rusty and he may not have Kyle Long and Josh Sitton protecting him. But even if all the Bears' offensive hands were on deck, Monday night's challenge would've been formidable anyway.

The Vikings' defense leads the league in fewest yards allowed (279.5 per game), is tied for the league-lead in allowing fewest points (14.0), third in rushing defense (81.7), fourth in pass defense (197.8), and sixth in third-down defense (34.2 percent). And oh yeah, they lead the league in turnover ratio (plus-11), courtesy of their nine interceptions (tied for second), seven fumble recoveries and 19 sacks (seventh-most in the NFL).

It's nice to have quality and depth up front. That's where that push comes from, especially off the edges, with ends Brian Robison, Everson Griffen and sophomore Danielle Hunter supplying four sacks apiece. That trio combined for 21.5 sacks a year ago (when the Bears totaled 35 as a team). And while injury-prone Sharrif Floyd finds himself sidelined again since the opener, tackle Linval Joseph (three sacks) is back playing at the All-Pro level he was at a year ago before an ankle injury slowed him. And Tom Johnson contributed 6.5 sacks a year ago rotating in with Floyd at three-technique.

[RELATED: Bears In-Foe: Purple a fitting color for Vikings' battered, bruised offense]

Reunited UCLA linebackers Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks are in their second year together in a run the Bears will likely have to deal with for another decade. This is the 11th and final year they'll see Chad Greenway, who's more leader than playmaker now in the middle of that defense.

Ryan Pace, Vic Fangio and position coach Ed Donatell must also be jealous of the Vikings' deep defensive backfield. Top cover man Xavier Rhodes, last year's top pick Trae Waynes and Andrew Sendejo have two picks each. Waynes still hasn't taken a job away from ageless 37-year-old Terence Newman. The Vikes were trying to upgrade on Sendejo, who answered the challenge and should be able to play Monday after departing the Eagles game with an ankle injury he suffered almost taking an interception to the house. It's almost unfair that second-round rookie Mackensie Alexander can't even surpass fourth cornerback Captain Munnerlyn for playing time.

But we must not forget Harrison Smith. The humble Golden Domer, humorously nicknamed "Gangsta White Boy" by Adrian Peterson, became the NFL's richest safety by inking a five-year, $51 million deal this summer, is coming off a first Pro Bowl that probably would've come sooner if not for a couple injuries. Two of his four career pick-sixes have come against the Bears, and Pro Football Focus has him as the only safety to grade positively in coverage, run support, and pass rush over each of the last two seasons.

Special teams

Just as Robbie Gould fell under the microscope of the current Bears brass with last season's rough finish, the strong-legged Blair Walsh probably feels a few more eyes on him after missing the 27-yard game-winning attempt in the frigid playoff loss to Seattle. He's 10-of-13 on field goals this season, 11-of-13 on extra points.

But while the Vikings' kickoff coverage was burned by Josh Huff's return Sunday in Philadelphia, the Bears coverage units have to be disciplined and smart against Cordarrelle Patterson and Marcus Sherels. Both have burned the Bears more than once before. With more than his seven kick returns, Patterson's 29.9 average would lead the league. Sherels' 14.6-yard return average on punts ranks third in the NFL. He's already returned two for touchdowns this season after burning the Bears at Soldier Field a year to the day short of Monday's contest.

Bears In-Foe: Purple a fitting color for Vikings' battered, bruised offense

Bears In-Foe: Purple a fitting color for Vikings' battered, bruised offense

Mike Zimmer couldn't hold back his frustration after Sunday's 21-10 loss in Philadelphia.

Realistically, big picture-wise, he should feel fortunate. Not that his team isn't any good. We've seen these Vikings coming for awhile. But his offense, minus so many pieces that have been subtracted due to injuries, hadn't turned the ball over once in its 5-0 start.

That's when Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, who'd seen Sam Bradford for all of training camp before he was traded a week before the opener, dialed things up. The result? Four turnovers, including Bradford's first interception of the season, coupled with a pair of fumbles. Schwartz doesn't have as many pieces as the Vikings' defense, but he had enough to sack Bradford six times, deliver 19 hits and 14 knockdowns.

Bradford's managed to step in for Teddy Bridgewater more easily than starting tackles Matt Kalil (hip) and Andre Smith (triceps) have been replaced. T.J. Clemmings is capable after starting all of his rookie season a year ago, but the hope that former No. 1 overall pick Jake Long had anything left took a serious hit Sunday. He'd gone unclaimed for quite a while (even reportedly going through a workout with the Bears), and we saw some of the reasons against the Eagles. He was replaced by journeyman Jeremiah Sirles. The middle of that line seems OK, thanks in part to the free agent signing of guard Alex Boone to anchor the interior with Brandon Fusco and center Joe Berger.

[RELATED: Bears In-Foe: Vikings defense is Purple People Eaters, Part II]

The great Adrian Peterson's torn meniscus in week two has him on injured reserve, with little hope he'll make it back. And while Jerrick McKinnon (3.2 yards per carry) and Matt Asiata (3.3) are serviceable, the line hasn't been able to help those replacements rush for an average of even 75 yards per game (31st in the NFL).

And think about this: Yes, the Bears have played one more game than the Vikings, but they have four receivers who've matched or surpassed the dangerous Stefon Diggs' team-leading total of 27 receptions. Three of Bradford's seven touchdown passes have gone to tight end Kyle Rudolph. Former Illinois High School Player of the Year Laquon Treadwell was targeted to be the big target Bridgewater/Bradford needed, but had just two snaps the first three games and has yet to catch his first NFL pass. It's part of the Zimmer Way to bring along draft picks slowly (think Trae Waynes last year, albeit at a much deeper position on this team). Zimmer's indicated the 23rd overall pick's still too mechanical, still thinking too much at this level to earn snaps over Adam Thielen, Charles Johnson and now, even the once-exiled Cordarrelle Patterson, who scored the Vikings' lone touchdown Sunday on a pass from Bradford.

Like the Bears, this banged-up unit has trouble in the red zone (touchdowns on just 47 percent of their trips inside), and their 21.5 points per game average is boosted by four touchdowns combined from its defense and special teams. It'll be interesting to see if Leonard Floyd, Willie Young and perhaps Pernell McPhee can have themselves a good night next Monday against that susceptible line, and who's able to go among the Bears' defensive backs versus a passing offense that's averaged only 225 yards a game.