With an ailing offensive line, Fred Taylor and the Jags' ground game are struggling.
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Two weeks into the NFL schedule and already some preconceived notions and preseason perceptions are dying off one by one, or rapidly becoming out of date. Harsh reality has begun setting in on any number of fronts. What we thought we knew has been replaced by what we've seen so far.
Perception: The Jaguars can run the ball against anyone.
Reality: Not when their injury-decimated offensive line is missing three starters and a key backup tackle they can't. Jacksonville rushed for only 33 yards in its opening-day loss at Tennessee, and followed that up with a 98-yard performance on the ground in losing to Buffalo at home in Week 2. Its 65.5 yard rushing average ranks 28th in the league, and for the first time since late in the 2004 season, the Jaguars have failed to rush for 100 yards in two consecutive games. Jacksonville's long gain of 13 yards on the ground is tied with four other teams for the worst in the NFL.
The Jaguars ranked second in the league in rushing in 2007 with 149.4 yards per game. But there has been no room for the team's top two backs to run this season. Fred Taylor has just 67 yards on 23 carries (2.9), and Maurice Jones-Drew has fared worse, with 30 yards on 12 carries for a 2.5-yard average rush. Only quarterback David Garrard has topped three yards per carry, with nine runs for 34 yards (3.8).
Perception: With Pro Bowl quarterback Derek Anderson and a pair of 1,100-yard pass-catchers in place, Cleveland's passing game has arrived.
Reality: The Browns won't be a team cleared for takeoff this season until they start moving the ball better through the air. Cleveland's passing game ranks 28th in the league, with just 134.5 yards per game. The Browns have generated just 16 first downs through the air, with just one gain of 20-plus yards, and Anderson's passer rating is a paltry 57.1. Little wonder Cleveland is averaging an NFL-worst 8 points per game, with a pair of home losses to Dallas and Pittsburgh.
Cleveland appears to greatly miss injured veteran receiver Joe Jurevicius and his steady production. Kellen Winslow and Braylon Edwards have combined for 17 receptions, but those catches have produced just 148 yards, a pedestrian 8.7-yard average. Last season, those two averaged 13.5 and 16.1 yards per catch, respectively, with a combined 21 touchdowns.
Perception: The Saints defensive improvements will keep them from getting gouged once again by the big play.
Reality: New Orleans ranked 30th against the pass in 2007, giving up 32 touchdown passes and a whopping 54 completions of 20-plus yards (3.4 per game). The Saints took several steps to address their defensive shortcomings this offseason, but in Week 2 at Washington, they lost 29-24 when receiver Santana Moss got behind rookie cornerback Tracy Porter for a game-winning 67-yard touchdown pass with 3:29 remaining.
In fairness to the 1-1 Saints, they're battling a wave of injuries on defense early on. But so far, the results look too familiar for comfort. They're ranked 28th against the pass (256 yards per game) and they've given up six pass plays of 20-plus yards (3.0 per game), none bigger than Moss's back-breaker.
Perception: Minnesota's dominant defensive front will elevate the entire Vikings defense to elite status.
Reality: Adding premier pass-rushing defensive end Jared Allen to the mix hasn't been a difference maker so far. The 0-2 Vikings remain good at stopping the run (7th in the NFL, 82.0 yards per game) and shaky against the pass (24th overall, 237.0 yards per game, with five gains of 20-plus yards). Minnesota posted its first two sacks of the season in its home-opening loss to the Colts on Sunday, and when the defense was given a 15-0 late-third quarter lead to protect, it surrendered 18 points in the game's final 16 minutes to wind up losing by three.
Perception: In Oakland, it's all about "Just Win, Baby.''
Reality: Not really. Not for quite a while now. The downtrodden Raiders got their first victory of the season Sunday in Kansas City, and the big story overshadowing it all was still the day-to-day employment status of head coach Lane Kiffin. It's not a matter of if Kiffin will be fired by controlling Raiders owner Al Davis, it's when? And the when question looms over everything that goes on in the most dysfunctional of all NFL franchises.