One of the frustrating things about internet discussions is that anybody who tries to be a realist gets ridiculed as a naysayer. In another recent thread, for example, some of us tried to make reasoned arguments about why we're not drinking the Shaun Hill kool-aid, and "middle grounders" accused us of being the nay-sayers with as little logic as the guys saying "Shaun Hill Rullz."
This isn't an "I told you so," post, but rather it's a chance to take a look at a bad game, where we got some real unlucky breaks, and use it to help us take an honest assessment of this team.
1) Let's start with Shaun Hill. People have wanted to hype his record while ignoring the teams he played, but here's the simple truth: it's not clear that Shaun Hill has ever beaten a good team. Hill was terrible today. I'm not even that upset by the INT, which we could have recovered from. (Anytime a ball is tipped and becomes an INT, bad luck was involved. That being said, when the ball is tipped by the intended receiver, the QB's accuracy comes into question). But Hill just didn't get it done today. Under 50% passing. A 5.2 YPA even when you account for the long pass to Morgan (where Morgan created most of the yards after-the-catch). This was a truly bad performance.
2) The defense. I'm less worried about this defense that some will be, after giving up 45 points, but that's partly because I didn't believe the hype. Look, Clements isn't a shut-down corner, and never has been. He's not going to magically become one at this point in his career.There will be renewed calls for Manny Lawson's head, but that's typical fan short-sightedness. No, he wasn't good today, but people were calling for his head after the preseason, praising him like mad after four games, and are going to be calling for his head again today. But he's learning a new skill set, and that's going to come in fits and starts. Freaking out about the pass-rush, against a team with a great pass-blocking OL, is scapegoating.
I really think what happened here is that our guys got dispirited in the second quarter, and that's a real concern. Of course, it's hard for them to get their mojo back when the offense keeps putting up 3-and-outs. It would have been nie to see some veteran leadership stand up, but what this defense really needed after the bad breaks of the int and the fumble was for the offense to say "hey, we're still in this thing," and they couldn't deliver.
I'm mostly concerned about the NT situation. If this defense can't stop the run, it's going to struggle against everybody, and the Falcons just had too much room to run wherever they wanted today.
3) The coaching. This one hurts, because today the team looked a lot like it did when coached by Nolan. The total inability to handle adversity. I'm still digesting Kawakami's diagnosis (that Sing is getting out-tacticed by opposing coaches) which bears thinking about, but essentially we saw, today, the team that had the same personality we'd seen for the last couple of seasons. Despite Sing's exhortations, these guys got punched in the face and they didn't get back up. Now, in my opinion Sing is entitled to his rookie-coach mistakes, just like anyone else, so the whole timeout thing isn't that big a deal - no way anyone could have anticipated that crucial a blown call - but the abject failure of his coaching philosophy in this game is a cause for concern, to say the least.
4) The lack of maturity. I'm not the only one who wants to strangle Dre Bly right now. Coffee's a rookie, so he gets a pass this game, but wow.
What I'm not worried about:
1) The run game. No, Coffee's 3.8 average isn't exciting, but the truth is we had to get away from the running game because we fell behind.
2) Josh Morgan. After his drop last week, a lot of people seemed to be giving up on him - but anybody who puts more stock in that drop then they do in his 61 yarder is crazy. That 61-yarder was something HE created, after the catch. That's special. With Hill forced to throw long deeper because of the scoreboard, Morgan put up his best numbers of the year. This guy is a keeper, who, at the moment, is not on a team that's going to showcase his talents that well. The same will be true of Crabtree if he gets onto the field this year. As with VD last year, you have to look beyond the stats to see if they're delivering, and not just call them disappointments because of low catch totals.
Morgan has done a lot to convince me that he's going to be one of our long-term staters at WR.
Where do we go from here?
Maybe we should call this section "Playoffs? You want to talk to me about playoffs?"
The truth is that we can still win our division pretty easily, and earn the right to get demolished in the playoffs. And I guess that's progress. Our biggest needs right now are o-line and QB. The problem, of course, is that it's not so easy to pick a QB. With so many young QBs playing well right now, it's really easy to forget about Russell, Smith, Leinart, and Young - drafting a QB in the first round is still a very expensive crapshoot.
I'd rather see the team focus on the lines in the first two rounds. Get me a great OT (honestly, I understand why we grabbed Crabtree, but Oher would be a shoo-in for rookie of the year if linemen could get a fair shot at those prizes). Get me a NT or a guy who can get to the QB. We've got two first round picks next year, which are both likely to be top 15. Let's solve the big problems. A quality QB may slip to the second round, let's grab him then.