We've improved, but we're still playing shitty defense overall.
After developing bad habits for 2 years, it takes time to not play like a full-on retard, mostly because of the 1 year rule. You don't just step into greatness. It goes in stages, and I have written those stages down, complete with graphics.
The arrow is where we are, and the bars are, in order of appearance, our goals. The gradient goes from feminine salmon, to symbolize last years powder puff defense, to blood red, to symbolize the organs of our enemies strewn about the playing field.
The Darnell Cutoff
Be safe and don't make mistakes. The same way a car company pretty much only needs to make sure their product won't explode if rear ended (coughhenryjamescough) before they shove it out the door, this is the minimum level of acceptable defense.
A&M's defense in 2005 was a horrific mess. When you ask bad players to make plays and put them in positions where they need to accomplish something, their fail will be felt by seismologists around the world. Watch the fuck out, Sri Lanka. By the time they beat us in our own yard in 2006, their defense looked like a completely different unit.
The only thing that changed was the massive scaling back of responsibility. If your grocery list only has one thing on it, the odds of your forgetting something is pretty small, right? Gary Darnell only asked his guys to remember the milk on the way home. The result was 11 guys, with one clear goal, not actively conspiring to make each other look bad.
In 12 games, they made maybe 4 plays. Teams with their shit together still scored on them. And they held us to 7 points with a lineup that could charitably called mediocre.
The downside to this strategery is that you pretty much remove yourself from having any influence in the outcome of the game. The goal goes from stopping the offense to watching them and hoping they mess up a few times in a row (It's also a measuring stick for said offense. Scoring 7 points at home against teams like this is a red flag big enough to be seen from space). This should be our first goal but not our ultimate goal, since we do actually have the players to force our will on people from time to time.
The Slocum Standard
Once you've "achieved" the altitudinal success of the Kitty Hawk Flyer you can focus on using your talent in positive ways. RC Slocum won a maddening amount of games by being as bland as he possibly could and watching the other team self-destruct. Later in his career, after Mack Brown and Bob Stoops took away his talent base, this left him with a string of 6-9 win seasons, but when he had NFL talent he could play to his conservative nature while his guys made things happen on their own. Risk, for a defense, is a bad thing that you should generally avoid, but you need guys who can rush the passer in groups of 4 before you can avoid it.
This is my expectation for this year, to reach the level of the late 90s A&M defenses.
The Bobby Benchmark
I happen to think that RC Slocum's best defenses were better than Bob Stoops' best (minus 2000). Stylistically, however, OU's defenses are of a more advanced stage. They attack. Every play, ever player.
It's more than playing good, sound schemes with good players. It's about creating opportunity without getting beat enough to tip the balance to the offense. Sometimes that just means trusting your players enough to blitz a lot (like the Eagles), but in Stoops' case it means being aggressive with every player, trying not to prevent a score but create their own.
This is why any team with a decent OL can pump fake their way to victory. They usually have better athletes than players in the secondary. They've never had the talent we have now, even with Roy Williams. In 2-3 years, we can hit this level.
"But ChrisApplewhite!" you exclaim, "our secondary hasn't been that good yet!"
True, but remember one thing. In 2006 Deon Beasley was the worst player on the field. Now he's the among the best in the country, when healthy. Aaron Ross didn't even start in 2005, and before that was really hit and miss. It took Cedric Griffin 2.5 years of playing to not be horrible. Michael Huff was a non-tackling mistake machine his first two years. In fact, the only DBs that came in and were good right away (that I can recall) were Nathan Vasher and Rod Babers.
Let it shake out, and watch what happens. We have, literally, 8-9 NFL players on campus right now in the secndary alone. We also have, literally, nobody playing at an acceptable level yet. Assuming we don't hand the next defense to André Maginot . . . well, let's not jinx anything.
The Marvin Measure
(First, I give no credit to Brian Billick for the Raven's defense in 2000. It was there when get got there. It was the players mostly, and Marvin Lewis.)
I don't know why teams even tried to beat Baltimore that year. Just forfeit and take the off week.
This isn't a realistic goal for any team to reach, but it is an expression of the ultimate absurdity of coaching a football team -- striving to reach a level you know for a fact you can't (that's why, since I heart symbolism, the last bar is slightly unreachable).
Still, it's part of the spectrum, and occasionally one team does capture that lighting in a bottle. OU in 2000 is the closest I've seen with my own eyes (and probably the last great defense before the spread really set in), but they haven't come close since. This year, in my opinion, is their second best defense, and it still doesn't compare to 2000. Although, to be fair, the MNC team got to go up against Jeff Bowden calling plays from Mark Richt's offense, with Chris Weinke at QB. That's like shooting looking at fish in a barrel.