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Perception vs. reality: Preseason expectations that aren't playing out

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schedule and already some preconceived notions and preseason perceptions are dying off one by one, or rapidly becoming out of date.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 What we thought we knew has been replaced by what we've seen so far.

To wit:

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.

Perception: Carolina couldn't possibly win with its best player -- receiver Steve Smith -- sitting out a two-game team suspension to start the season.Reality: Ladies and gentlemen, give it up for your first-place 2-0 Carolina Panthers. I'd say they've shown quite a bit of fight thus far, but that would probably be a poor choice of words given Smith's sucker-punching of teammate Ken Lucas in training camp.

The Panthers own a pair of fourth-quarter comeback wins, getting it done on the game's final play in Week 1 at San Diego and rallying from a 17-3 third-quarter hole at home against the plucky Bears on Sunday. Carolina quarterback Jake Delhomme has thrown for just one touchdown with his go-to guy, Smith, sidelined, but that one really counted for something when it went to Dante Rosario for the game-winner against the Chargers.

Perception: The disgruntled Anquan Boldin could make for trouble in Arizona this season.Reality: The Cardinals can use this kind of trouble from Boldin any time. The veteran Arizona receiver may be seeing red about his contract situation, but he is making his opponents pay for it on the field. Boldin has a team-best 14 catches for 222 yards as the Cardinals have started 2-0 for the first time since 1991, and he scored his first three touchdowns of the season in Sunday's 31-10 home-opening demolition of Miami.

Boldin had six receptions for 140 yards against the Dolphins, with scoring plays of 79, 5 and 8 yards. It was his 22nd 100-yard receiving game as a Cardinal, setting a franchise record. Combined with his eight second-half receptions in Week 1 at San Francisco, Boldin has made all 14 of his 2008 catches in Arizona's past six quarters.

Perception: If Devin Hester doesn't score, Chicago won't score.Reality: The Bears have been surprisingly competitive so far, and their 23 points per game ranks a very respectable 13th in the league. Hester hasn't even sniffed the end zone yet, but Chicago has five touchdowns, three field goals and a safety. Three of those touchdowns have come from running back Matt Forte (one) and Jason McKie (two), with linebacker Lance Briggs returning a fumble for a score and receiver Brandon Lloyd notching a touchdown on a return of a blocked punt Sunday at Carolina.

With Hester now nursing sore ribs and his status somewhat uncertain for Week 3, Chicago needs its early season play-makers to continue to fill the void on offense.

Perception: Having gotten a taste of playoff success with two wins last January, the Chargers would return hungry and focused in 2008.Reality: San Diego's inability to put either of its first two opponents away late in the game has to rank as one of the bigger disappointments in the league. Ed Hochuli aside for the moment, there's no way San Diego should have gotten beat at home by the Steve Smith-less Panthers, or given up a touchdown and a two-point conversion on identical Jay Cutler-to-Eddie Royal passes Sunday in Denver.

The Chargers defense has been horrendous through two games, giving up 32.5 points per game to rank 29th in the NFL. Five of the six touchdowns San Diego has allowed have come via the air, which is tied for the second-most passing touchdowns in the league. Already two games behind first-place Denver in the AFC West, the Chargers better start finishing their work, beginning with Monday night's showdown at home with Brett Favre and the Jets.

Perception: Without both the retired Michael Strahan and the injured Osi Umenyiora, the Giants' vaunted pass rush is going to struggle to repeat last year's dominance.Reality: The Giants led the NFL last season with 53 sacks. New York this season has seven sacks in its first two games, a rate that would produce 56 sacks if they can keep it up all season. Michael who? Osi who?

New York dumped Washington's Jason Campbell just once in the season opener at Giants Stadium, but they harried or hurried him all night long. At St. Louis on Sunday, the Giants sacked Rams quarterback Marc Bulger six times, with Justin Tuck leading the way with a pair of sacks and a 41-yard interception return for a touchdown.

Perception: David Garrard won't get you beat throwing interceptions.Reality: Garrard had just three interceptions all last season in 325 attempts, the best ratio for any starting quarterback. This year? He has three interceptions already, in just 63 attempts. And his latest was indeed very costly. Down 10-3 but in possession at the Bills 16 with just 14 seconds left in the first half, Garrard threw an ugly pick to Buffalo cornerback Terrence McGee, who turned it into a touchback and prevented the Jaguars from cutting into the Bills' seven-point lead. That was a pivotal play in what turned out to be a 20-16 Buffalo win, dropping the Jaguars to 0-2 and jeopardizing their once lofty expectations for this season.

Perception: The Browns newly rebuilt defensive line will shut down the run and make opponents one-dimensional.Reality: The Browns went out and traded for defensive linemen Shaun Rogers and Cory Williams this offseason in order to greatly enhance their defensive front. But the results have been lacking thus far. Cleveland ranks 24th against the run through two games, and is getting gashed for 142 yards per game. Against the pass, the Browns are even worse, ranking 26th and allowing 242 yards per game.

Cleveland couldn't slow down the Cowboys at all on opening day, and in Sunday night's ugly 10-6 loss to the visiting Steelers, the Browns couldn't stop Pittsburgh and get the ball back late in the game, when it really mattered. And things might be about to get worse before they get better, because defensive end Robaire Smith sustained a potentially season-ending Achilles tendon injury against the Steelers.

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