Well, that stung. I may be alone in this, but for me it stung in a good way. I live in Cincinnati, surrounded by Bengals fans, or at least people who would like to be Bengals fans but for the constant fear that their team will not show up for any meaningful game. Bengals fans were proven right to be tepid yet again this weekend, as after a near wire-to-wire division crown run and undefeated home regular season, they fell by 3 scores to a team that looks quite ordinary.
Meanwhile, I saw the team from my home state come within a Micah Hyde drop on a would-be INT, a Jarret Bush blown contain, or a phantom call on Bakhtiari from victory over a Super Bowl favorite, all without their best defensive player and during the downest of their down years. I received text messages from Cincinnati friends wishing they could have lost like we did, envious that at least our team had shown up, flaws and all. Some years, your team wins trophies and titles, and some years they win an extra bit of your respect. I love rooting for this team.
Of course, we'd prefer the trophy and title next year. And, the question that forms the title for this post has an answer we all know: defense. Rodgers may in fact be better than he was in 2010. Eddie Lacy dropped 49er defenders left and right, and earned a moment that gave me actual chills during a live game. If you believe the advanced metrics people, Jordy Nelson is a superior receiver to Brandon Marshall, Randall Cobb is a terrific #2, and while James Jones may be gone, Jarret Boykin looks ready to be step up. Even the offensive line was rated as one of the best units in football at run blocking, and looked better at pass protection, all without their best overall player.
Meanwhile, I don't know who, besides Clay Matthews and Sam Shields, will be returning to our defense that you would label above average without hesitation. There are bright spots and game to game flashes; Morgan Burnett is a fine player, and Mike Daniels looks like giving us something we haven't had since Cullen Jenkins. Ted Thompson does an incredible job of finding replacement level players for nearly every position, which we all might complain is boring or not enough, but being top heavy with stars and bankrupt at roster spots #35-55 doomed the Falcons and Lions this year, and the Cowboys for the last three and every future season in which Jerry Jones is in charge.
So, I don't believe that a new GM is the answer, and I'm not in the "Fire Capers!" camp, not after his #2 DVOA defense of 2010, and the subsequent water-treading he has had to do with players still learning their positions since. There are schemes you can run with Nick Collins and Desmond Bishop that don't work with AJ Hawk and MD Jennings. So, I am looking for a more specific answer to that question than "defense" and getting rid of Capers. I tend to think we have just seen a large period of transition slow down (NFL teams are always in transition somewhere, obviously), and we can pick and choose now from a small class of weaknesses. My first thoughts are that we should spend whatever number of picks are necessary to trade up and get CJ Mosley, and that we should be players for Jairus Byrd. This is a totally emotional response, that takes none of the drawbacks into account, but it's as far as I've gotten since the game yesterday. I think we're finally in a position to need to use fewer picks, and grab a quality free agent again. I don't think we're that far away.