Best performance by a quarterback, West Coast division: Colt McCoy. "I'll be the first to tell you we're nowhere near where we need to be,'' McCoy said. He's right, of course, because he's been in a new offense with his teammates in practice for two weeks, and two of Green Bay's top three corners had the night off for the preseason game. But new Browns coach Pat Shurmur dialed it up pretty well for three McCoy-led series. His line: 9-of-10, 135 yards, one touchdown pass, no picks, two touchdown drives.
Best performance by a quarterback, Rehab division: Matthew Stafford. In camp the other day (see below, in Detroit section), Stafford didn't throw a wobbler in two hours, and his accuracy was superb. Practice makes perfect, evidently. He was 6-of-7 for 71 yards and two touchdowns in the Lions' rout of Cincinnati at Ford Field, and you know what this means, don't you? It's Super Bowl or bust for the Leos.
Best performance by quarterbacks, rookie division (tie): Ryan Mallett, Cam Newton. It wasn't the numbers so much as the confidence each showed. Newton (8-of-19, 134 yards, no touchdowns or picks) was supposed to struggle in offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski's tough playbook, but he looked confident and threw the ball like he'd been there before in the Panthers' win over the Giants. Mallett (12-of-19, 164, one touchdown, no interceptions for New England) was better than that -- though you've got to be careful because he played against the Jacksonville bench. But on the five or six throws I saw, confidence and preparedness oozed, as well as his terrific arm.
Buffalo trades for the future, Baltimore for the present. Surprise! This can't be encouraging for the emotionally ravaged Bills fan, watching his team trade its most accomplished player for a 2012 fourth-round draft pick. "They'll be about half of them that like it and half that won't. That's the way most of all the decisions are,'' Buffalo GM Buddy Nix said of the Bills fan base.
I don't think half of them will like it, honestly. But they should. Lee Evans is 30, caught 81 balls over the last two seasons combined for Buffalo, and the Bills have a young receiver named Donald Jones (undrafted free agent, 2010, Youngstown State) who's loved by the coaching staff and is building good chemistry with quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.
The Bills could, at some point early this season, have a four-receiver set with 25-year-old Stevie Johnson and Jones, 23, on the outside, and two 24-year-olds in the slots -- wideout David Nelson and running back C.J. Spiller, who they'd like to work more into the receiving game.
For Baltimore, it's a great deal, particularly after failing to land a big target in Malcom Floyd in free agency. The Ravens have a physical downfield receiver in Anquan Boldin, which mean Evans, who still has 4.45 speed, will be a good change-of-pace guy on the other side.
Other notable events. For Buffalo, Shawne Merriman had two sacks and drew attention to lead to a third by rookie Marcell Dareus in a huge first quarter for his confidence ... Saints rookie Mark Ingram had a 14-yard touchdown run, bouncing off two tackles and spinning for the score against San Francisco ... Mark Herzlich, the Giants popular free-agent linebacker, forced a Carolina fumble with a jarring hit ...
Tarvaris Jackson was shaky and took two sacks for Seattle, and Seahawks tackle Russell Okung, who missed half the season with ankle injuries in 2010, sprained his ankle in the win over San Diego ... Chicago's line gave up nine sacks, though several were let in by guys who won't make the team ... Len Pasquarelli of SportsXchange reported Darren Sharper will work out for the Patriots, which says something about either the Patriots' homework or their dissatisfaction at free safety ... Jason Pierre-Paul had two sacks and a pressure that led to an interception for the Giants.
Want a corner? Sniff around Philadelphia. "There are going to be some good players we're going to have to let go,'' Andy Reid said Saturday. And not necessarily on waivers. If your team wants Joselio Hanson and has a spare third- or fourth-rounder, the Eagles are probably in a dealing mood.
Corwin Brown has a standoff with a SWAT team, then shoots himself. In a 2007 interview with the South Bend (Ind.) Tribune, Brown, who grew up on the tough streets of Chicago, said: "It wasn't a big deal to be shot and killed, it just wasn't. I want kids to at least see what else there is to life. It's one thing if you have an opportunity and you don't seize it, but it's another thing when you just don't know what's out there.''
Brown's career was on a downward spiral Friday when he holed himself up in his northern Indiana home for seven hours, surrounded by police, and then shot himself. He was taken to an Indiana hospital to be treated.
As Charlie Weis' defensive coordinator at Notre Dame, Brown had his authority stripped in 2009, got let go with the Weis staff after the 2009 season, took a job coaching defensive backs with New England, and then lost that job last winter. Three years, three slaps in the face.
I'm told Brown has some deep-rooted psychological issues, and his friends were very worried about him after he lost the New England job.
Training camps in the can after 17 days: Atlanta, Carolina, Baltimore, Washington, Philadelphia, New England, New York Jets, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Green Bay, Chicago, Minnesota.
Snapshots from where I've been recently:
Detroit, Allen Park, Mich.
I want to get excited about the Lions, but ... If you'd seen what I saw with Matthew Stafford throwing bombs all over the practice field last week -- and completing them -- you'd be on the way to Vegas, putting $100 down on the Lions for the Super Bowl. But if you stayed a little longer and watched the secondary, you'd have put your money back in your wallet.
Clearly, the Lions are counting on quarterbacks getting chased all over the place and not having time to pick apart the secondary. Look at the top four in the back end: Chris Houston, a former first-rounder the Falcons gave up on; Alphonso Smith, a former second-rounder the Broncos gave up on; Eric Wright, signed in free agency this year to a one-year contract after the corner-starved Browns benched him last December; Nathan Vasher, released by the Bears and Chargers in 2010 before catching on with Detroit.
I'm still deciding on my order of finish in the NFC North, and for every division for the SI NFL preview. I've been bullish on the Lions through the offseason, and I've thought of them as a playoff team for a couple of months, ever since they drafted Nick Fairley. And I think it's possible to be so good on the front end that you mask your weaknesses in the secondary. But look at how strong this conference is. It's loaded.
Let's say, for fun, that Green Bay, New Orleans and Philly win their divisions, to go along with the West winner. So which two of the following six teams will be the wild cards: Chicago, Detroit, Dallas, the Giants, Tampa Bay or Atlanta? It's easy to say Detroit's going to the playoffs. Now tell me which team isn't?
The one thing I'll say about Detroit is this: The Lions had the same secondary problems last year -- worse, maybe -- and they were playing Shaun Hill and entered the last quarter of the season 2-10. They swept their final four games. "It takes a lot of toughness to stick with a plan when you're not winning,'' said coach Jim Schwartz. "And we stuck with it.''
Chicago, Bourbonnais, Ill.
The Cutler fallout. Interesting watching Jay Cutler on the practice field. He's skinny. Listed at 233 last year, he's on the roster at 220 now, and looks even lighter. Not that Cutler was fat before, but he looked like he had a good 10 extra pounds he could lose, and in the offseason he worked to lose the weight. "He's quicker,'' said offensive coordinator Mike Martz.
The arm hasn't suffered. And Cutler, on the practice field, is as commanding a presence as he's ever been. I asked Martz if there's been any carryover from the knee injury that knocked Cutler out of the NFC title game and led to the tweets from several former and current players questioning his toughness.
"I was dumbfounded by it,'' said Martz. "I just went home after the game, and I don't pay attention to the media or TV after the game, so the next day when I came in, Lovie [Smith] told me about it. I was shocked. Shocked. But I can tell you from that day to now, it hasn't been a problem on this team. Never. I promise you that.''
What could be a problem, of course, is the offensive line protecting Cutler. He is probably wise to be quicker and more mobile, because he's going to be chased around behind a group that didn't given Bears fans any reason to be confident last year or in the preseason opener Saturday against Buffalo.
Minnesota, Mankato, Minn.
Brother act. There's a very good chance E.J. Henderson, a lock to start at middle linebacker for the Vikings, will have his brother, Erin, alongside him at outside linebacker when the season starts Sept. 11. Amazing, considering a few things.
Growing up in Aberdeen, Md., E.J. had six years on Erin, and they were never on any sports teams together. E.J. was a second-round pick of the Vikings in 2003, Erin a free-agent signee in 2008. "I didn't sign because my brother was here,'' said E.J. "I signed because I thought this gave me my best shot to make the NFL.''
After playing mostly special teams for three years, Erin's game is on the rise, thanks in part to his work with new linebacker coach Mike Singletary. "I think my range, my instincts and athleticism are strong,'' he said. "Coach Singletary's instincts at linebacker were so good, and I'm trying to learn from him.''
Erin and rising star Chad Greenway started in the preseason opener Saturday on either side of E.J., but Erin's not counting on anything yet. That's wise because coach Leslie Frazier's not going to make an emotional, feel-good decision. Said E.J.: "I'm proud of him, as proud as a big brother can be. I guess I'm the grizzly vet now. Erin's a little more explosive, a little rangier right now. If he keeps playing the way he is, I could see him winning the spot.''
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