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D's may be offenses' best friend

A media release from the league office Monday touted that 15 quarterbacks posted a passer rating of at least 90.0 on Sunday, and nine had ratings of at least 100.0.

The facts are accurate and the signal callers are to be lauded. But the numbers also point out a more disturbing trend: a dearth of defense.

Consider this: 12 teams scored 30 or more points Sunday, and 17 scored at least 22. It took two weeks last season for 12 teams to score 30.

The St. Louis Rams led the league with 66 touchdowns in 1999. This year, they are on pace to score 80. Last season, four teams scored 48 or more touchdowns: the Rams, Washington (54), Carolina (50) and Minnesota (49). Right now, 11 teams are on pace to score as many.

The old adage says defenses usually are ahead of offenses, but it does not seem to be bearing out. What is holding true is the preseason assertion of Fox analyst John Madden that the NFL doesn't have many dominant defenses.

"I think teams are really trying, with some success, to keep offensive lines together," Madden said. "To keep the quarterback, wide receivers and generally offenses together. I think they feel defenses and special teams can be made up of free agents. So part of it is the strategy that's come about because of free agency."

STARTING OFF: Last season, six of the eight teams that started 2-0 made the playoffs. The other six playoff participants all started 1-1, meaning no one who started 0-2 made the post-season.

Translation: This year's 2-0 teams are in good shape, while the 0-2 teams may be in trouble. Of the eight unbeatens, the most surprising is the Giants. Wins over Arizona and Philadelphia aren't stunning, but the way the offense has performed is quite impressive. Running back Tiki Barber has rushed for 240 yards on 24 carries and the offensive line has allowed one sack.

The 0-2 group includes some teams that once were perennial favorites and a few that were pegged to contend for playoff spots: Kansas City, San Diego and Seattle are winless in the AFC, and Dallas, Chicago, Green Bay and San Francisco are 0-2 in the NFC.

SPEAKING OF DALLAS: Everyone knew that one of the teams for Monday's Dallas-Washington game might be embroiled in a quarterback controversy, but it was supposed to be the Redskins.

Instead, it's Cowboys coach Dave Campo issuing a strong denial about a possible problem between starter Troy Aikman and backup Randall Cunningham. Cunningham started in place of Aikman on Sunday, and though the Cowboys lost, the veteran scrambler looked fluid in completing 24-of-34 for 243 yards.

"I want to make it very clear that Troy is our starting quarterback if he's ready to go," Campo said. "I was pleased obviously with the way Randall played, that's why we signed him."

Though Aikman's availability for Monday's game at Washington hasn't been determined, the quarterback said he intends to play.

"The plan is to play this week, go through the week of practice and see how things go. But right now that's the idea, unless symptoms occur throughout the week once we get out and start working out," Aikman said.

Aikman had nausea and headaches after sustaining his ninth concussion in the first half Sept. 3 against Philadelphia. He had minor headaches most of last week.

Cunningham is trying to do his part by taking the high road.

"I pray that there is not a controversy," he said. "We need unity on our team."

GREEN MAGIC: Off-season turmoil might have affected the Vikings' chances of success, but Minnesota coach Dennis Green seems to be working his magic. With first-year starter Daunte Culpepper at quarterback, Minnesota has beaten Chicago and Miami.

The Bears didn't have enough defense to quell Culpepper in Week 1, and the Dolphins didn't have enough offense to keep pace in Week 2. Minnesota was favored to win some high-scoring games, but capturing defensive battles is another story. Even with inexperienced Jay Fiedler at quarterback, Miami was supposed to come up with more points against what is supposed to be a weak defense.

But before we anoint Culpepper and company, let's see what happens in coming weeks. After New England on Sunday, the Vikes have an open date, then four out of five against playoff teams.

SICK: It wasn't a surprise to see Baltimore to beat Jacksonville, but the way the game went down was something of a shock. For Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin, it was more than he could hold down.

"There were a lot of heroic plays, a lot of people who did outstanding jobs," Coughlin said. "The frustration of how we lost the game, and the numbers and circumstances around it, give me a very bad feeling today in the pit of my stomach."

_ Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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