I have some theories regarding our recent defensive woes.
1. Hawthorne made more of a difference than we may think.
I certainly don't dislike Wagner, and I think he'll be a good MLB over the next few years, but starting a rook at MLB seems risky. And teams seem to be running up the middle against us more lately. Our LB play overall is definitely a bit suspect, and while perhaps Hill is over the, uh, hill, I've heard the MLB position compared to the "QB of the defense" often enough to wonder if maybe Wagner is in over his head a bit at this point. Again, I am optimistic about his future, but he may be a weakness at this point.
2. Clever defensive schemes only work for so long.
Remember the Bandit? Where we'd put 6 or 7 DBs in (or 8?). It was wildly effective ... for a while. We haven't seen much of it recently. I wonder if our somewhat unorthodox 4-3 / 3-4 LEO defensive schemes -- as well as our penchant for press man coverage -- are being exploited by opposing offensive coordinators. I wonder if Bradley has all his great ideas in the offseason and fizzles making adjustments in midseason. The NFL is a chess match, and maybe our staff just can't quite make those midseason defensive adjustments when weaknesses are exposed.
3. Our D is simply wearing out.
No, not like permanently. But we saw this last year as well. Over the first half of the season, our run D especially was "lights out". Then, over the second half of the season, we got gashed a number of times. It's true that we lost Big Red last season, but what if that wasn't the primary problem? Isn't this year's run D having the same problems as last year's run D in the second half of the season? What if Big Red just isn't built for a 16-game season?
Feel free to bash away. I'm not an Xs and Os guy by any means ... these are just things that occur to me.