Bears

Bears' 'Viewers Guide' to the Divisional Round

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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, CSNChicago.com 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 ProFootballFocus.com. 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 Inactives: Khalil Mack, Allen Robinson active for Bears vs. Patriots

Bears Inactives: Khalil Mack, Allen Robinson active for Bears vs. Patriots

Bears fans can breathe a collective sigh of relief. Chicago will have two of its top injured play-makers back on the field to take on the New England Patriots.

The teams announced their inactives for the game, and both Khalil Mack and Allen Robinson were good to go.

Mack missed two days of practice this week with the ankle injury he suffered against the Miami Dolphins and was questionable for Week 7. He was able to participate on a limited basis on Friday, and evidently that was enough for him to give it a go at Soldier Field.

He likely won’t be at 100 percent, but he’ll have a more favorable matchup facing the Patriots’ backup right tackle LaAdrian Waddle. Starter Marcus Cannon was ruled out this week with a concussion.

Robinson was also questionable with a groin injury that limited his week of practice. He was an unexpected addition to the injury report his week as his injury didn’t appear to affect him against the Dolphins,

He’s Mitchell Trubisky’s most-targeted receiver this season, and he'll be relied on against a New England defense that’s known for throwing a lot at young quarterbacks.

(Too) Bold Predictions: A big day for the Bears' running backs

(Too) Bold Predictions: A big day for the Bears' running backs

You've stumbled into (Too) Bold Predictions, a weekly column that is exactly what it sounds like! Here, we'll take nuanced, well-researched information and use to make wildly improbable predictions. Analysis! 

 

J.J. Stankevitz 

1. Jordan Howard will have his first 100-yard game of the year.
Hear me out: This happens if Bill Belichick’s strategy is to drop seven or even eight defenders into zone coverage, forcing Mitch Trubisky to make good decisions and fit passes into tight windows against a secondary that’s the strength of the Patriots’ defense. Or...Matt Nagy recognizes what’s in front of him and pounds the ball to Howard 15-20 times with plenty of success. Belichick, too, was extremely complimentary of Tarik Cohen on a conference call with Chicago media this week, and it wouldn’t be surprising if Cohen is the guy the future Hall of Fame coach tries to take away. Either way, it’s also worth noting here the Patriots allowed Kerryon Johnson to become the first Detroit Lions running back to have a 100-yard game since 2013 (!) in Week 2. And Howard still has shown flashes this year, like the 34 yards he gained on consecutive carries in overtime against Miami. 

 

2. Danny Trevathan or Roquan Smith will make a big play when it counts.
Given how good the rookie running back combo of Sony Michel (67 carries, 236 yards) and James White (23 receptions, 198 yards) has been recently, a lot of the Bears’ defensive success will hinge on the inside linebacking play of Trevathan and Smith. Trevathan has had an up-and-down year, playing outstanding ball in Weeks 2 and 4 but having some issues against the likes of David Johnson and Kenyan Drake/Frank Gore. Smith’s athleticism stands out but he’s still growing into Vic Fangio’s defense. Sunday will be a major test for both of them, and if the Bears are to win, it may come down to one of these two guys making a big-time play: A forced fumble, interception, run stuff on third down, etc. For the sake of a bold prediction, I’ll go with Smith making a play at the end of Sunday’s game that stands as the first big moment of the rookie’s pro career. 

 

Cam Ellis

1. Tarik Cohen's performance will garner the attention of national media 
Last Sunday night, Kansas City's Tyreek Hill had seven catches for 142 yards and three touchdowns. He averaged almost 21 yards per catch, thanks in part to a 75-yard touchdown score late in the 4th. The Patriots' defense clearly had no answer for Hill's speed. Now Cohen isn't a carbon copy of Hill, but he plays a similar role in the Bears' offense that Hill plays for the Chiefs. New England's linebackers lack and real speed -- especially on the outside -- which obviously bodes well for Cohen. Belichick is notoriously for creating game plans that take away the other team's best offensive players, but with the personell he has on defense, it's going to be tough to matchup with Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Trey Burton, AND Cohen. The guess here is that Robinson and Gabriel have quiet games, but Cohen runs circles around the Pats. 

 

2. The Bears and Pats are tied heading into the 4th quarter
For a team with aspirations of an NFC North title (and more) this shouldn't be a bold prediction, and yet, it kinda feels like it? After a slow start to the season, the Patriots' offense have scored at least 38 points in each of the last three games. This Bears defense is the best they'll have played yet, so I don't expect them to get anywhere close to 38 today, especially with how the defense played last week in Miami. I think New England comes out of Chicago with a win, but the Bears will play them closer than people are predicting. A Cody Parkey-Stephen Gostkowski battle royale could be in play.