As we approach the fourth full week of preseason games, here are some quick observations from this NFL summer:
Where's the D?
|Rick Stewart / Getty Images|
|Vince Young ran the Bills out of the playoffs last season (above). The Titans quarterback had his way with the Bills again during the preseason.|
It was an embarrassing effort, with starting defenders barely going through the motions as Vince Young and just about every other Titan who touched the football ran with ease for big gains. Does it mean the Bills, who have hardly been stellar on offense this summer, aren't ready for the regular season? No. But it should serve as a good reminder that the team isn't close to being talented enough to go through the motions against any opponent.
Granted, the Titans have what could very well qualify as an unstoppable force in Young, who often looked like a man stepping his way through a bunch of grade-schoolers whenever he scrambled. "Thank goodness we don't play Vince Young every week," Bills defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said. Still, that doesn't explain how Kerry Collins and a variety of unproven Titans running backs were able to pretty much do as they pleased.
By the way, wasn't that Young who had a major hand (and foot) in killing the Bills' last-gasp playoff hopes a year ago? Invariably, the Bills will run into a player of that caliber, and their response will determine whether -- as some of us suspect -- they are capable of showing improvement over their 7-9 finish in 2006.
QB ... or not QB?
Predictably, the Browns' quarterback situation has turned into a cat-and-mouse game between the team's decision-makers and the Cleveland media.
After two impressive late-game performances, Brady Quinn has become a favorite media topic, as in, "Will the kid be the starter on opening day?" It's a fair question. Not only has Quinn looked every bit like the standout he was at Notre Dame, but neither of the Browns' other quarterbacks -- Charlie Frye and Derek Anderson -- has made anyone believe there is a better alternative.
General manager Phil Savage and coach Romeo Crennel have done their best to douse the notion that Quinn is ready for the Sept. 9 season-opener against Pittsburgh. It is widely presumed that Frye will get the start. But the fact Crennel won't commit beyond saying that Frye is the starter for the Aug. 30 preseason-finale against Chicago has left the door wide open for questions and speculation about Quinn.
The Browns' deep thinkers could be tempted to go with Quinn against the Steelers, especially if he gives another strong showing against the Bears. But it makes more sense to keep him on the sidelines. Quinn's success must be tempered by the fact he has faced defenders with no prayer of playing in the NFL beyond the preseason. He also has yet to see anything resembling the complex blitz-happy scheme that the Steelers and other opposing defenses will unleash in the regular season.
Meanwhile, Savage and Crennel will continue to have their fun making the media guess.
On the defensive
This is what I like from the Green Bay Packers this summer: Their defense, which looks as if it could rank among the best in the NFL; third-round draft pick James Jones, who seems to have a lock on the No. 3 receiver spot and could play a more prominent role early because of Donald Driver's foot injury; Aaron Rodgers, who is showing that the team might very well have at least a solid replacement when (or is it if?) Brett Favre finally says, "Enough."
This is what I don't like: The Packers' running game, which in three preseason games has averaged a mere 3.5 yards per carry and has had only one rush of at least 20 yards. Rookie Brandon Jackson, who suffered a blow to the head during the team's Aug. 26 practice, has been a disappointment. That is especially disturbing in light of Vernand Morency's lingering knee problem.
Walking the line
The biggest news from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is not that they found a legitimate starting quarterback in Jeff Garcia, although that development will certainly go a long way toward allowing the team to rebound from last year's 4-12 mess.
No, the bigger news is that the Buccaneers' offensive line is dramatically better than it was in 2006. And that unit is going to have the most to say about how well Garcia and the rest of the offense perform.
There might not be another line in the NFL with a stronger right side than the Bucs have with guard Davin Joseph and tackle Jeremy Trueblood. Joseph has the makings of becoming one of the more dominant guards in the league. He has the right blend of power and athleticism to consistently plow open holes and help keep Garcia upright.
"We brought in Roman Oben at left tackle," coach Jon Gruden recalled for reporters in Tampa. "Kerry Jenkins was brought in to play left guard. Jeff Christy was on the last year of his deal. Cosey Coleman was the right guard. And we had Kenyatta at right tackle. Seen any of those guys around?"
Just adjust, baby
I've got to hand it to the Oakland Raiders. They turned what shaped up as a potential disaster at quarterback into a spot that could very well prove to be the envy of many other teams in the league.
When the Raiders acquired Josh McCown from the Detroit Lions in the offseason, it looked as if they had given themselves a marginal cushion until top overall pick JaMarcus Russell was ready to step into the starting role.
When they picked up Daunte Culpepper from the Miami Dolphins, it looked as if they had taken little more than a flier on a player whose problematic knee would limit his ability to make any sort of contribution and who still was a long removed from his dynamic seasons in Minnesota.
Now, with Russell not even close to signing a contract, the Raiders are faced with putting their season in the hands of McCown or Culpepper. Based on what both have shown so far, the Raiders might not go wrong with either, which means they just might have the sort of depth rarely found at quarterback.
McCown could have the edge because his quicker delivery is an advantage to an offensive line still finding its way in pass protection. Culpepper tends to take longer to set up and throw. However, both players have been effective moving the offense, throwing accurately, and making sound decisions.
Culpepper could prove to be one of the best comeback stories of the year, if not many years.
I'm beginning to buy into the notion that the Arizona Cardinals could be one of the surprise teams of the 2007 season.
The Cardinals' passing game couldn't be sharper. Matt Leinart seems to have made tremendous strides since his rookie season, as reflected by his 114 passer rating and 9.3 passing yards per attempt in three preseason games. The Cards are getting even better production from their veteran backup, Kurt Warner.
But the greatest hope is found in Leinart's performance, because it provides tangible evidence that he and the rest of the young offense are responding well to the teachings and the scheme of new coach Ken Whisenhunt, who was hired largely for his offensive expertise.
The only lingering question mark is the state of Arizona's running game, which has not been all that impressive this summer. Part of the reason is that Edgerrin James has seen limited action. My sense is that once he gets a full load, the Cards will run more effectively.
"We don't ever want to lose sight that we want to run the football," Whisenhunt told reporters in Arizona. "If somebody wants to put nine guys in the box to stop the run, which some teams have done to our style of offense in the past (in Pittsburgh), they're going to have to deal with Larry, Anquan, Bryant Johnson and our quarterbacks. We're very comfortable with that."
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