Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch looks at what the Rams have on offense and what they need heading into the offseason. Thomas on what the line needs: "You can get by with one 'finesse' blocker at guard, but not two. The Rams need a road grader there to help with run blocking and to neutralize wide-body DTs. One of the season's mysteries was why the Rams couldn't get John Greco in uniform over the second half of the season. The run blocking was at its best when Greco was part of a time-share at right guard with Adam Goldberg. A smart, tenacious player who helped keep Smith settled down on the right side, Goldberg lacked the bulk to handle bull rushes and power moves inside; he's scheduled for unrestricted free agency. At center, Jason Brown didn't play as well as he did in 2009. At left guard, Jacob Bell had some problems with power players but was generally effective." Adding a more dynamic threat at receiver could also help open up running lanes. Teams were able to load up against the run without enough regard for giving up the big play. That made life tougher for the linemen in ground game.
Also from Thomas: what the Rams have on defense and what they need. Thomas on what the team needs at linebacker: "A quality weakside linebacker, someone with range who can play the run and the pass, is one of the Rams' top overall needs. In an ideal world, this guy could also rush the passer. Too often the Rams got burned on outside runs because they couldn't hold the perimeter, or couldn't get to the edge in time. Too often, opposing running backs and tight ends leaked out late as receivers with the Rams slow to detect them, which meant what should have been small gains turned into costly bigger ones. Better play at outside linebacker would help shore up these problem areas."
Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch hands out end-of-season awards for the Rams. He says it was "disgraceful" for the team to fire longtime equipment manager Todd Hewitt. Miklasz: "One thing I've learned from watching the good and the bad at Rams Park for the last 16 years is this: It's never healthy for coaches to worry about things that have nothing to do with winning or losing games. It's never healthy for coaches to be insecure about having 'their' guys in place all over the building. Hewitt was loyal to the Rams because he deeply loves the franchise -- which means he was loyal to Steve Spagnuolo and to all of the men who have passed through as the head coach."
Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune asks whether familiarity with the Chicago Bears can help the Seahawks when the teams play in the divisional-playoff round. Safety Lawyer Milloy: "I think it always helps. We know what to expect. We beat Chicago in their home stadium, but they’re definitely a different and better team since the last time we played them."
Doug Farrar of Sportspress Northwest says the Seahawks will face an improved Bears offense when the teams meet for the second time this season. Farrar: "In the second half of the season, the Bears have used pre-snap motion as often and as effectively as any team in the league. On their first play from scrimmage against the New York Jets in Week 16, the first formation was an empty backfield before running back Matt Forte and tight end Brandon Manumaleuna motioned into the backfield, changing the Jets’ interior defensive structure and loosening up the run defense enough for Forte to gain four yards. On the next play, Devin Hester’s motion from right to left forced the defensive backfield to shoft that way, which left Forte with an opening outside for an additional five yards on the ground. When extra blocking was needed, Manumaleuna might motion from inline to an I-formation or H-back look in order to give second-level protection and allow Jay Cutler to move and roll out in the pocket, and this was a major improvement."
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says money isn't the only factor when it comes to the Cardinals re-signing Larry Fitzgerald. Somers: "The team needs an upgrade at quarterback to improve upon its 5-11 record this season, and to convince Fitzgerald that the offense is heading in the right direction. Fitzgerald caught 90 passes for 1,137 yards and six touchdowns this season, but he was open on numerous other occasions, and the quarterbacks had trouble getting him the ball. At this point, the Cardinals probably are doing most of the talking, and agent Eugene Parker likely is doing more listening."
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says the word "preliminary" in relation to contract talks can mean very little is going on substantively. Urban: "But the Cards have never been anything but sure they wanted to keep him long-term, and I have always thought his remaining in Arizona was the most likely outcome."
Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says the 49ers will make some changes to their front office. Maiocco: "Tom Gamble, director of pro personnel, will become the team's director of player personnel. Gamble has been in the NFL for 23 seasons, the past six with the 49ers. He has worked for nine playoff teams -- five with the Indianapolis Colts and four with the Philadelphia Eagles. After the promotion of Gamble, the 49ers plan to hire an experienced NFL executive to serve in a senior football advisor role."
Also from Maiocco: 49ers defensive coordinator Greg Manusky interviews with Carolina.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee looks at ties between the defense Dom Capers runs in Green Bay and the one Vic Fangio is expected to run with the 49ers. Barrows: "The two started coaching professional football together under (the elder) Jim Mora for the Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars of the USFL. That team's famed 'Doghouse Defense' blitzed often and was one of the first to bring pass rushers from an array of angles. Many of the blitzes Capers uses today had their origins in the USFL 25 years ago and the experience influenced both men. The Stars appeared in all three of the league's championship games and won two of them."
Mark Purdy of the San Jose Mercury News says the 49ers' hiring of Jim Harbaugh stands as a coming-of-age moment for team president Jed York, who understands why people are skeptical about a leadership team featuring York and first-time general manager Trent Baalke. York: "I'm 29 years old, Trent's a first-time general manager. People are going to have questions. And we haven't done anything yet. It's time to get to work."