I've waited a couple of days to give my thoughts on the Carolina game, and where we stand as a team at this juncture. This isn't going to be a long post, but I hope it sparks some quality discussion. This is much less of a "hoosierteacher" post and much more of a request for your thoughts.
First, I didn't expect Denver to win this game, and they didn't. In my mind, the Panthers have a very good shot at playing for the NFC Championship, and perhaps the SB. It isn't a knock on Denver (or me as a fan) to believe they are not yet a deep playoff caliber team. I was disappointed to lose, but not depressed. If we lose to the Bills, I will not be a happy camper.
Second, I don't like the 4-4 at the pro-level. I ran it at the HS level (where the run is much more a part of the game) at times, but as I wrote last week, a 4-4 can stop the run, but it will cost you in the passing game. A lot of folks advocated Woodyard at SS. While he may have been called a SS, he actually played as more of a fourth LB. Either way, kudos to him and the defense for stopping the run (until, as I predicted, CAR got one of those giant runs near the end of the game). But "boos" all around to not having a deep second safety, particularly with Champ out of the game.
Without Champ Bailey to cover Smith, and without the "second safety" (Woodyard was playing as more of a LB than safety, and we played more of a 4-4 than a 46 Defense), we should have known that Steve Smith would gash this team. With Champ in the game, we might (might) have gotten away with it. In my Chalk Talk last week, I went so far as to write that we might have to keep a safety in the box to stop the run. But without Champ, that idea was suicide.
Third (and I'm 100% with Guru on this one), I don't understand the bone headed call that started the momentum shift away from our team. At the end of the first half, Denver decides to try a drive instead of running out the clock. I think many of us saw a turnover in the making. Before that point, Denver was hanging with Carolina, and the game was still a balanced proposition.
Fourth, the Kuper injury. I strongly believe we can plug in another guard (K-lich) and do fine. The problem we may run into is lack of coordination in some zone blocks. This wouldn't bother me so much, except that we don't have the depth and experience at RB to compensate. All in all, I don't think we will see too much drop off in OL performance.
More below the fold...
As to this week, I think we should beat the Bills. If we don't play at our best, I certainly think the Bills can get it done ("Hard work beats Talent, when Talent doesn't work hard").
Shanahan may or may not have faith in Prater. A smart coach doesn't criticize a FG kicker, because the kicker position is a lot about the player's state of mind. If Prater is on the outs, Shanahan won't say so. I think Prater may have a great future (I love those long FGs), but Shanahan will have to play it easy if Prater is going to get his mojo back.
Denver's draft needs: Denver needs a DT to help us stop the run up the middle. With that in place, Denver can drop back a safety and multiply the effectiveness of our pass defense. Denver also needs at least one dominant LB in the draft. A CB to groom over the next two years would be an asset.
On Offense, we'll need an OL for depth on the interior (Hamilton as an injury risk, Wiegmann nearing retirement, I doubt Nalen comes back), and a WR (Stokley nearing retirement).
Cutler has one major step to take before becoming a SB talent - He needs to get away from the Favre "gunslinger" mindset and let the game come to him more. He needs to move the chains instead of playing for the big play on many downs.
I wonder who the rest of the members want to see back at RB? I want Hillis, Torain, Pittman and Alridge (more power [except Alridge], with less likelihood of injury). All four were injured, but I think these guys have more durability (minus Alridge), and at least some of the injuries can be attributed to trauma and not poor conditioning. Hillis and Torain to rotate, Pittman to spell, Alridge for change of pace.
One thing I want to really push this offseason - The strength and conditioning program (as well as the training staff) needs to be audited. I would really like to see a much higher emphasis placed on stretching, flexibility, and other injury prevention methods. I'm not big on yoga, but it did help our two SB teams, and would certainly help with injury reduction. Injuries will happen, and many injuries will happen from time to time. But I'm getting pretty sick of "hammy" and groin injuries. This rate of torn and pulled muscle injuries is inexcusable.
Last, my thoughts on the Pro Bowl selection. I know everyone is dissapointed that Clady isn't in as a left tackle. He looks legendary, being a rookie and giving up so few tackles and so few penalties. Let's get this straight - Clady is the best LT playing the game. But bear with me for two thoughts. One, are you folks really going to skip out on the Pro Bowl while Cutler and Marshall are there (even at back-up, Cutler should see some time)? We should support Cutler and Marshall for being honored. Two, rookies don't often get selected. It's a tradition I don't agree with, but not a slight against the Broncos.
I'm not a big Pro Bowl fan. The game is meaningless, and the plays are more vanilla than the pre-season. Yes, the Jets are over represented (east coast bias), and yes, Clady should have been in. But just because Clady got snubbed doesn't mean I have to turn my back on Cutler and Marshall.
Ok everyone; discuss!