Todd referenced this piece by Chris Lowe yesterday,and it deserves being mentioned again. There are several good blurbs to be found, but in particular this quote from the aforementioned piece especially jumped out to me:
"The mental errors killed us," Upshaw said. "I’m not singling anybody out, because it was on all of us. We’d have a mental error here and a mental error there. This year, we’re coming in and getting rid of those mistakes, because we plan on being a dominating defense again for all four quarters."
In other words, Upshaw gets it. To be sure, 'Bama needs to do improve defensively in several different areas this season. The defensive line needs to penetrate into the opposing backfield more frequently, control the point of attack in the running game more consistently, the pass rush needs to improve, the linebacker corps needs more consistency and better production in pass coverage, etc. Having said that, though, even if we can improve in most of those areas, the harsh truth of the matter is that all of that will largely go for not if problems like this keep re-occurring at inopportune times:
The point to be made here is two-fold: First, obviously, it's hard to prevail in close games between relatively equal teams determined by small margins when you make crucial mistakes that allow opposing teams to put an easy touchdown on the scoreboard, which is no small concern given the harsh reality of the strength of the SEC guarantees that you will be in at least a couple of these games per season regardless of how good you are.
The second problem here is somewhat more sinister, though very problematic all the same. Consistently making mental mistakes has the ultimate effect of reducing the overall complexity of the defense, the relative simplification of which works as an added benefit to opposing offenses, and that especially goes for defensive schemes like Saban's that rely so heavily on complexity as a key component of their success.
So, in effect, not only are you gift-wrapping opposing offenses the occasional big play, but you are also making life easier for opposing offenses on every other snap by having to simplify your defense as a whole. If 'Bama is going to return to the level of an elite, dominating defense in 2011, the mental mistakes simply have to go away, in addition to all of the improvement that needs to occur in other areas.