I waited an awful long time before I sat down to write this. I'm with every fan that feels let down by the team right now. But the time to write a diary on the game and the state of the team is when one has calmed down.
It would be easy to write that our team just flat out sucks right now. But that's not insightful analysis (even if it is true). There is a lot to take from this game and this season, and it is worth our time to look into these things.
What the heck happened to our season?
I came into this season thinking two things.
- We have a great number of big names to be excited about, and a lot of young and upcoming players.
- We also have a radical shift in defensive philosophy (from a "man-show blitz" system to a "run contain" system), as well as a major turnover of players.
I knew we would make adjustments, and I figured we would heal. Instead we had some injuries. We were facing a good team in PITT, and I expected big trouble. I figured the team would begin to "click" by the time GB rolled around, but was pleasently surprised at the play of our guys against PITT for the win. I figured that GB would be a win for us (even with injuries mounting), but we lost in OT.
So far so good. Then came the DET blowout.
So what happened to our team? I think the players are demoralized. I think this happened because of the players psychology. Any coach worth his salt knows that attitude is more important than most other player variables.
COnsider this: Each player came into this season with high hopes, given the number of big names and young stars. Names like Cutler, Walker, Marshall, Stokely, Henry, Bailey, Bly, Lynch, Williams, Gold, Nalen, Hamilton, Lepsis, Graham, Scheffler, even Rice, etc. Good God, we had an all star team, right? Then consider that one thing the players overlooked was my thought listed above:
We also have a radical shift in defensive philosophy (from a "man-show blitz" system to a "run contain" system), as well as a major turnover of players.
By overlooking this, I think the players never considered that the first half of the season would be so rough. They didn't expect the 3pt wins. They didn't expect to be booed in an early home game this year. They didn't expect to lose so many games in the first half of the season (like they should have). And they didn't expect all of the cruel twists of fate either.
Twists like injuries to Walker, Nalen, Hamilton, Lynch and others. Rod Smith not making it back from PUP. Henry getting in drug trouble. Marshall in potential trouble. And the kicker?
The GB game was probably hyped in their minds as the game to win. They came off a glorious win over PITT, they should have felt confidence in the new defensive system, and they LOST in a heart ripping OT to GB.
It showed this game. No one played with much passion. I noticed at one point in the game that a back-up safety had more tackles than all of the LBs put together. They weren't tackling, and the safety had to clean up the mess. I also noticed that DET ran a lot to the outside (Gamecast on NFL.com indicated runs to the tackle and the end for consistent gains). This means our containment isn't working.
Who's to blame? Who's head should roll?
I'm going to make a lot of enemies here, but I firmly beleive this. Not a soul.
Perhaps the coaches let the players get too confident at the start of the season. It's hard for a coach to balance confidence against arrogance. But I don't blame Mike.
Mike has a lot of winning years for this team. He has good records against our division rivals. He has done a good job of getting us to playoffs (which means a shot at the big game year after year). I don't believe you call for the coach's head in the midst of a bad season (and right after a blowout). Keep the long view in perspective and you can't seriously want to dump this man. Besides, what person out there is available that you would want right now? And if you got him, wouldn't that just ensure further turmoil for system changes?
Ok, do we blame Bates? No. Here again, the man is bringing a system that is radicaly different from what our guys are used to. Most people understand man schemes and zone schemes. But most NFL players are only familiar with containment schemes because they are professionals, and not because they play it a whole lot. A new coordinator should get half a season to get his system going. And this guy has a great record too.
Look, I don't even like the run containment system. But Bates knows how to run it, and he's proved it everywhere he's been.
Do we start cutting players left and right? I hear it a lot arounf here, and I understand the sentiment. But here again I say no. We have an awful lot of good players, and they are (for the most part) all playing badly. Does this mean they all suck?
No way. Something is gripping an entire team here. Can so many big names be playing so badly and the issue is indiviuals? I don't think so. I think there are some serious factors at play.
- The loss of Williams last year in a senseless tragedy.
- The loss of another great kid, Nash, who was doing charity work when he passed away.
- High expectations with a large number of star names on the roster.
But sometimes we have to step back from what makes us comfortable. As an old defensive coordinator I believed that everything could be solved with schemes, motivation (take a lap), and sweat. But I'm begining to think the problem is deeper than all of that. It's mental, and that's a hard thing to see or even understand. It doesn't seem like the kind of thing that gets solved with a half time speech (or tirade). It's a team wide problem.
Bottom line: When this many (otherwise) good players play this badly for this long, it's easy to blame each of the players or the coaching staff for being incompetant. Easy, but perhaps wrong.