Musings, observations and the occasional insight as we run down the winners and losers of the first full week of the NFL's preseason schedule. The games don't count, but the perceptions sure do.....
• WINNER -- It's hard to imagine Green Bay's transition to the 3-4 defensive formation generating more bottom-line results than what the Packers enjoyed Saturday night at home against Cleveland. Dom Capers' defense had four interceptions, three sacks and held the Browns to just 11 first downs and 191 yards of total offense in a 17-0 blanking of struggling Cleveland. Granted, Cleveland looks dismal, but a shutout is a shutout.
The Packers were playing without five potential starters on defense, including veteran cornerbacks Charles Woodson and Al Harris, but still looked like a vastly improved unit compared to the one that finished 20th overall on defense in 2008. Maybe the best news of all was that a Packers run defense that ranked 26th last season limited the Browns to just one first down on the ground.
• LOSER -- Browns receiver Braylon Edwards, the NFL's leader in dropped passes last season with 14, dropped a first-quarter pass from Brady Quinn in the end zone at Green Bay and finished without a catch. Supply your own punch line about Edwards appearing in midseason form.
• WINNER -- The NFL, and its fans, for actually getting through the entire five-day preseason "weekend'' without a major headline name going down with a hope-deflating serious injury. And that was with stars like Tom Brady and LaDainian Tomlinson on the field and getting their first August action in quite some time.
• LOSER -- Denver's Kyle Orton better have a crisp night in Seattle this Saturday, or the Broncos new starting quarterback might not keep that title all the way until the looming Aug. 30 showdown with Chicago's Jay Cutler at Invesco Field. Three more hideous interceptions by Orton in a loss at San Francisco, after he tossed two in an intra-squad scrimmage the week before, further damaged any chance he has of winning over the frustrated Broncos fans, or buying his embattled head coach, Josh McDaniels, some much needed credibility in their eyes.
• WINNER -- Seeking a stable and established setting from which to re-launch his NFL career after a two-year hiatus, the newest Eagle, Michael Vick, landed with the right team. Andy Reid and Co. aren't knee-jerk reactionaries, and Philadelphia will be both patient and prudent with Vick as he rounds back into football shape and takes this year to re-make his image and reputation.
• LOSER -- The Eagles and Vick at the moment are a feel-good story, but let's remember that the bottom line is that Vick needs to play well to make Philly's gamble worth the effort. Financially the commitment is minimal for the Eagles. It's more the potential for the move to backfire in some unforeseen way -- and I'm still skeptical all will remain peaches and cream over the long term in Donovan McNabb's world -- and possibly derail Philly's last best chance at that long-awaited Super Bowl title.
• WINNER -- Call it a passing (or running) gimmick, the Wildcat Formation isn't fading away any time soon with Vick in Philadelphia and Miami drafting Pat White to run its new and improved version. Last year at this time, most of us didn't know a Wildcat from a Carolina Panther, and now we're discussing it as if it's an innovation that ranks up there with the microwave oven.
• LOSER -- The notion that any quality depth exists in Washington died a humiliating death Thursday night in Baltimore. The Redskins were routed 23-0 by the Ravens, and while Jim Zorn's starters didn't fare horribly in their one quarter of work, the rest of the roster played like the Washington Generals. Three Baltimore quarterbacks combined for 399 yards passing, and the Redskins never drove deeper than the Ravens 30, with nine of their dozen drives failing to crack the 50. Good luck in that NFC East, Washington.
• WINNER -- This just in: The Titans have receivers. Repeat, the Titans have receivers. When I visited Tennessee's training camp last week, I came away very impressed with the pass-catching potential of rookies Kenny Britt and Jared Cook. And they didn't take long to justify my confidence. Britt, the first-round receiver from Rutgers, caught five passes for a team-best 89 yards and a touchdown in a 27-20 win at Tampa Bay, and he looks like that rare first-year receiver who's ready to make an immediate impact.
Cook, the third-round tight end from South Carolina, added six catches for 56 yards against the Bucs, and he's basically a receiver wearing a tight end jersey number. Just think of what the Titans might have on their hands once new deep threat Nate Washington gets going, and that running game and defense do what they do so well. Tennessee is again the team to beat in the AFC South.
• LOSER-- The Raiders got a confidence-boosting home rout of Dallas in their preseason opener, and good first showings by key offensive components JaMarcus Russell and Darren McFadden. But just when you think that at long last football might once again be the main focus of the Oakland organization, we hear the wildly conflicting reports of head coach Tom Cable and defensive assistant Randy Hanson being involved (maybe) in some sort of fight in which a punch was thrown. The truth looks pretty murky about now in this story, but nothing good is likely to come out of the whole Raider-esque mess.
• WINNER -- Dwayne Bowe might not yet know what it takes to practice well for new Chiefs head coach Todd Haley, but he still knows how to show up on game day (or night). Demoted to third-team receiver recently because his practice habits have been raising the ire of Haley, Bowe was ready when the bell rang Saturday night at home against Houston, catching a team-best five passes for 70 yards. Now all we need is for Bowe to go off on some Allen Iverson-like rant ("Practice? We talking about practice?'')
• LOSER -- You have to lump together all those quarterbacks who, like Orton, did themselves no favors with their less than confidence-inspiring showings in the first full week of the preseason. I'm thinking specifically of Derek Anderson in Cleveland, Matt Cassel in Kansas City, Kerry Collins in Tennessee, Brian Brohm in Green Bay, and Colt Brennan in Washington. And for reasons that everyone can readily understand as of today, Minnesota's Sage Rosenfels and Tarvaris Jackson both seem like they lost something, too, even though they played well enough in a win over the Colts on Friday night.