I’ll break this into two categories, personnel and system.
1. Interior offensive line help. We didn’t run up the middle much, and for good reason. Our running game is exactly why you don’t look at raw yardage to gauge how effective a team is at something. Michael Turner really wasn’t that good this year, but he was the “leading rusher”. He had some big days against weak opponents. Way too many of our runs weren’t what you’d call successful runs, too often our running plays got us behind. We faced way too many 3rd down and longs, and against good defenses it killed us.
2. We’ve got to find another pass rusher. I was hoping Kroy Biermann could provide a spark on one end, but no, not enough. He made some nice plays, but overall, his impact on the game was minimal. You’d think with all the attention John Abraham commanded, someone else could take advantage of it, nobody did. The fact that Lawrence Sidbury rarely saw the field down the stretch has me worried he’s not going to work out like we’d hoped. This is year two of his experiment, next year is make or break for him. I would love him to step up, but I don’t want to enter 2011 with Biermann and Sidbury still the other pass rusher. Not to mention, Abraham is up there in years.
3. We need more speed at our skill positions. I think the loss of Jerius Norwood is underestimated. I think partially it’s underestimated because he’s always hurt so we never really saw just what he could fully do on the football field, but he’s the only real big play threat we’ve got on offense. Michael Jenkins is a solid receiver, but he’s a solid number two if you’ve got a slot receiver who can help stretch the field. Jenkins doesn’t stretch the field, doesn’t require any safety help, and teams can in turn use their safeties either to crowd the line of scrimmage, or help over the top with Roddy and Tony Gonzalez. Harry Douglass was a huge disappointment this year, his impact was also pretty minimal. We absolutely need a guy who can go down the field and stretch things out. I think getting Kerry Meier back next year is a good thing, but he doesn’t solve our problem of a dearth of big plays.
4. We might need a nickel back. Chris Owens was just abused on Saturday night, and I just haven’t seen enough from him to make me want to rely on him for anything. I understand Brent Grimes had a lot of interceptions, and defended a ton of passes. However, this is also a product of being targeted a lot. This is not to say we need to replace Grimes, not in the least, he’s a heckuva football player who I want out there. However, if we can improve ourselves at the nickel corner position, I’d like to see us move Grimes around more to keep him from getting matched up against some of the league’s bigger receivers. Have him play in the slot at times, he doesn’t need to always be a boundary corner. Brian Williams was solid, and his size is a plus, but age and injury are creeping up. I know people are throwing out names like Champ Bailey and Nnamdi Asomugha, but people need to get in touch with reality, that ain’t happening. With the deal we gave Dunta Robinson last year, we aren’t spending that much money on the secondary. Thomas Dmitrof needs to be shrewd in finding a little help for the secondary.
1. Throw the ball deep more. I don’t know if it’s because we can’t throw it deep, or don’t, but we need tot try it more often, just a few shots here and there. Part of me thinks it’s we aren’t sure we can protect Ryan enough to throw the ball down the field, at least not against good defenses. I understand where we ranked in sacks allowed, but that comes in large part to running the ball so often, and the fact that Ryan gets rid of the ball quickly, but unfortunately, his getting rid of the ball quickly coincides with getting very few big plays with the passing game.
2. We need to use the screen game more. I am a huge fan of screens, and we need to use them more. If we aren’t going to throw the ball down the field, screen plays at least give you a better chance at making a big play than a lot of what we run. Granted, not having Norwood, or a true speed back may have impacted that, but what about slot screens to Douglass? Or even to White?
3. Our defenders need work on taking better angles after quarterbacks. Getting pressure, really, wasn’t the huge problem. The problem came when we got there. You’ve got to get these guys on the ground. We whiffed against Drew Brees all day, and then against Aaron Rodgers. If we make half the sacks we had chances to in either game, we might still be playing. I think some of this might be the youth with guys like Weatherspoon and Moore blitzing has an impact on that, and I hope they can improve. I like it when we blitz, and we should do it more often. Brent Grimes and Dunta Robinson aren’t bad in the secondary. However, if we have to count on Chris Owens for anything, we are in trouble.
4. Don’t make major, major changes, clearly. We are on the right track. I still liken this team to the Patriots of the early 2000s. The 2001 Patriots received some very fortunate bounces to reach, and win, the Super Bowl that year. They took a step back the following year, and then proceeded to go on their run. The 2003-2004 bunch were the really good teams. While in our 3rd year, we obviously won’t reach the heights the Patriots did, 13-3 is 13-3, we’re a good team that needs a few tweaks. We can still get where we want to go, we’re on the way, and considering the steps we’ve been making, you have to think we’re going to keep moving in the proper direction.