This is my first fanpost, and it doesn't flow like I'd prefer, but I think I got my ideas out, and would like to get some discussion going.
Now that I've had time to sleep on last night's game, I figured I'd offer up some arm-chair coach's observations. It's clear to me that strides are being made in all phases, but there is still a lot to clean up. The easiest way to organize my thoughts is in a list, but I have some more abstract things to discuss that I'll tack on at the end. So, shall we get started?
I prefer to focus on the positive, so let's get the negatives out first.
- Turnover margin -- The first string offense didn't turn the ball over, but we didn't get any takeaways, either. I'm not sure what to make of this yet. Is there some mental block that is preventing it, or is there some coaching that Nolan isn't doing? I was very cognizant of the statistic given early in the game that Mike Nolan's defenses average 32 turnovers a season, and only one or two teams (Baltimore and maybe someone else?) had more than 32 last year. I mean, that one pass hit Goodman right in the hands!
- Chris Kuper -- Offensive line depth was an issue before, and if this injury is bad, things just went from bad to worse. Hopefully Russ Hochstein can help fill the interior void a bit.
- Sloppy Play -- The first team offense was atrocious, especially after the nearly penalty-free preseason they had been having (at least, I wasn't noticing many penalties). Clady and Weigmann got flagged multiple times. This needs to be cleaned up.
- Punt Coverage -- It probably isn't fair to say that punt coverage was bad, when it was really just that one return that hurt us, but it still made me awfully upset to see it. Overall, I still think that this team is much better than last season, but you have to get hang-time to give your unit time to close the gaps on Hester.
- Two-minute Defense -- What can I say? They bend and they break. They need to stiffen up on those last minute drives in order to make the rest of their performance worthwhile. I think it can happen, but it might take a couple more weeks to see improvement.
- Alphonso Smith -- He had at least one good pass breakup that I was thrilled with, but he got burned on a couple of plays. He'll keep getting better, though. The truly good CB have the ability to shake off those plays and keep at it.
- Robert Ayers -- He got in the game a couple times and made a tackle. Down side is that he's still a work in progress. On one play, he was in the passing lane and didn't put his hands up. Long completion. Hopefully that sort of stuff gets better as he gets more experience.
- Seth Olsen -- I didn't notice significant drop-off when Kuper went down. Perhaps if Hochstein is all he's cracked up to be by Coach, then we might be okay in the event of an extended Kuper absence. Did anyone see anything to be concerned about from the rookie?
- WR Depth -- It would be foolish to say we wouldn't miss Brandon Marshall's skill set, but I'm very impressed by the depth of this WR corps. Royal is going to give defenses nightmares all season, and it's not because of BM on the other side (as all the announcers seem to think). Lloyd made a play or two, Stokes was reliable, Chad Jackson caught a pass and made a nifty move for a bit more positive yardage, and McKinley is starting to look more comfortable out there. Add in our TE and RB, and we'll have plenty people to throw to. And this was minus Marshall and Gaffney (who I've been impressed with so far).
- Tom Brandstater -- Wow, what a rebound. He looked pretty good in the pocket, rolled out well, threw well, and had a decent game, even against the first string defense. What looked best, though, was something I saw stated in one of the open threads during the game -- he came in after that pick, shook it off, and drove down for a TD. It's too early to know, but he just might be able to become a real QB for us. We need to see continued growth.
- Special Teams -- What am I, a hypocrite? No, I was annoyed with that Hester return and think it could have been avoided, but overall I like what our ST has been able to do. Kickoffs are stuffed quickly this year. Punts are usually stopped early, and we have lots of punts downed inside the 20. Returns are getting there, and I'm expecting one of our returners to break a long one this year. And, there were no turnovers this week on ST. I'll take it.
- Dawkins and Goodman -- Dawkins was in the game, and everyone knew it. I wish we could get another guy like him early in his career and let his emotion and fire drive the defense. His passion is on a different level. Goodman made some plays, too, and I'm beginning to really believe he'll be able to keep doing so this year.
- Elvis Dumervil -- I have to admit something to you. I wasn't high on Doom this year after his falloff last year and knowing he was going to be moving to OLB. I figured he'd be in on nickel situations to help with the pass rush, and that's about it. When he made the starting lineup, I thought that we must be worse off at OLB than I had hoped. I was wrong. Boy, I was wrong. I've watched him fairly closely in the last two games, and haven't seen him abused, even against the run, yet. I've seen him set the edge, shed blocks, and make tackles. I even watched him drop last night into what looked like tight man coverage against a TE in the flat. The play went to the strong side, but until the route left the screen, he was all over the TE (might've been Olson). He even drew praise from Collinsworth (doofus) on his transition line backer. If he keeps improving this season and hasn't plateaued, he might be our defensive MVP.
- Defensive Line -- Ok, I think we can stop worrying that they just won't get it done. They did a good job of controlling the LOS against a really good Bears rush offense. Fields had 3 tackles (hrm), Peterson had 3 assists, and we're still seeing Chris Baker grow as a Nose Tackle (2 assists of his own, stuck Olin Kreutz on his back once). They allowed DJ and Davis to do their jobs. Not world-beating, but solid.
- QB Pressures -- We didn't get any sacks last night, but we did get quite a bit of pressure. I'm a little concerned that we didn't get a lot from anyone but Doom, although I think that was partially because the announcers didn't know anyone else and didn't mention them. But pressure turns into turnovers, and I'd take a few of those.
On the defensive side of the ball, I have to say that I was impressed with how things progressed this week. Very solid outing, and I'm heartened for the future. Doom looks like he might be quite legit, and our line play is much better than I had worried it might be. They are attacking the ball much more than last year's unit did, and they've stiffened against the run. I was worried about the short passing game after last week, but I didn't find myself overly concerned this week. I don't know if the team adjusted, or if I'm just more comfortable with it now. Either way, the Bears didn't move the ball well until the last drive of the half.
Overall, though, I really like the coaching on the field so far. We saw two different offenses (at least) in this game, alone. When Brandstater was in, there were several designed roll-outs, and run to set up the pass. Deep pass, too. There were obvious adjustments made on the offensive side of the ball at halftime, and it showed in the second half. When the games count, things are going to be very interesting to watch. When McDaniels has all his offensive weapons healthy and he's not holding anything back for preseason, I think we'll like what we see.
If the coaches can iron out those sloppy penalties and we can start getting some takeaways, I think we'll surprise a lot of people this year. Our first teams are looking pretty good, and will continue to improve as they become more comfortable with themselves and with each other. I'm excited about the possibilities. Realistically? I like our chances to go 9-7. Don't tell anybody, though. I'm commuting from La-La Land.