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Week 8 thoughts, including Rams' first win, questionable officiating

by | CBS Sports

Information not covered on NFL Today:

1. Carson Palmer -- Even though he did not plan on playing he told me it was good to play and face live competition. He felt even though he was in good condition, he was not in "football shape". That means playing extended periods with the pads on. What he did in practice last week to help him get his timing down and improve his football shape was take part in an extended 11 on 11 period as well as work the maximum amount of time allowed by the CBA with his receivers each day to improve his conditioning and timing. Palmer is best at timing routes, so I would expect a big improvement when they come back from the break.

2. Tashard Choice -- Though it may seem strange for the Cowboys to cut Choice, sometimes you find it is best to move on when a player becomes disgruntled and you cannot count on him due to injuries. Choice was not going to be in Dallas next year because he was going to be an unrestricted free agent and he was only going to take reps away from DeMarco Murray and Philip Tanner this year.

3. Andrew Luck -- The thing you have to remember about the Colts and Peyton Manning is Manning has had three surgeries on his back/neck area. There are medical personnel I have talked to that are not sure it is wise for Manning to play again. If you are the Colts and even if you keep Manning, he is one hit away from having his career end. This decision would not be a hard one for me. Remember, the Packers took Aaron Rodgers when Brett Favre was about the same age as Manning.

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4. Tony Sparano -- I don't believe in changing coaches during the season unless you are convinced you have the next man on your staff that will lead you for a long time or the team has become so dysfunctional and the coach has lost the locker room that there is no discipline left on the team. What happens when you fire the coach is you can start to get a reputation of not being loyal to your coach. Also, changing coaches in mid-season rarely has been shown to be a permanent solution.

5. HGH -- What I think the NFLPA has been missing is that they are leaving their players vulnerable to some embarrassing positions they will be put in. With Congress being able to subpoena players and put them under oath, this will be very awkward for the players and if they refuse to testify by invoking their 5th Amendment rights, that will ultimately reflect badly on them. Also, Congress can send reps to the cities where the players are. They don't have to be in session or in D.C. to do this. If you see what happened to some of the players baseball had testify, you can see why it can become embarrassing for football to be put in the same situation. Clearly Congress is putting the pressure on the NFLPA to get this solved or at least show the willingness to get it solved. It is conceivable that both Congressional Committees who have expressed interest in holding hearings can hold them.

6. Jim Caldwell -- The speculation on Caldwell's job is unfounded. The good news is the Colts organization has a more long-term based philosophy. Jim Caldwell will be back next year.

Thoughts from this week's games

1. St. Louis Rams -- Congratulations to Steve Spagnuolo on winning their first game of the year. Spagnuolo has done a good job this year keeping the Rams focused and playing hard despite injuries and a brutal first-half schedule. The addition of Brandon Lloyd has helped their pass offense. With Sam Bradford hopefully back next week and with the addition of WR Mark Clayton, the Rams passing game can only improve. The biggest difference Sunday was the play of their offensive and defensive lines. They outplayed the Saints. The Rams schedule is a lot easier on paper in November as they play the Cards twice along with the Browns and Seahawks. They might be able to put a streak together.

2. Baltimore -- Great comeback by the Ravens. They were down 24-6 at halftime and the boo birds were out. In the second half, Joe Flacco got his game going and went 19 of 28 for 238 yards. He rediscovered his TEs, who contributed 12 catches for 90 yards. Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson each had six catches. Also, Anquan Boldin came up big with seven catches for 145 yards. The Cardinals tried to press Boldin, but their CBs aren't as good as the Jags corners and that is why Boldin had more success. The Ravens defense put good pressure on Kolb getting six sacks, something the Cardinals have struggled with this year, namely getting good production from their passing game against pressure defenses.

3. Indianapolis Colts -- You got a chance to watch all three winless teams in the early games today: Rams, Dolphins and Colts. It was clear the Colts are not as good as the Dolphins and Rams. The Colts have had devastating injuries to their offensive line and, of course, lost Peyton Manning, who solved a lot of problems on his own. I think the Colts can bounce back next year with a healthy Peyton Manning. In fact, this could be a blessing in disguise. They can solve some key problems in the OL and at CB or even possibly draft Andrew Luck, a franchise QB like they did when they drafted Peyton Manning.

4. Pittsburgh -- They changed their defensive strategy and played more press man coverage against New England than they had before. New England's receivers including Wes Welker will struggle versus physical press coverage. In the past, Brady carved up their zone defense from their spread formations. On offense they were aggressive in their style by throwing the ball first and running it second. The New England DBs and LBs were no match for the Steelers WRs and TEs.

5. Detroit -- Good bounce-back win for the Lions after two losses. This is the type of game you have to win to be a playoff team, beat an inferior team on the road. Matt Stafford got back on the right track today. A lot of the credit has to go to his offensive line. The last two weeks they were outplayed, causing Stafford to have problems. Against Denver they were able to control Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil, two very good pass rushers.

6. Cincinnati -- The Bengals raised their record to 5-2 and, like Detroit, won a game they needed to win to be a playoff team, beating an inferior team on the road. They did it even though they were missing two key starters on offense in RB Cedric Benson and TE Jermaine Gresham. The Bengals schedule gets tougher in the coming weeks as they have to play the Steelers and Ravens twice. I think their defense will be solid in those games. QB Andy Dalton has played very well so far. The best thing he is doing is reading the defense quickly and getting the ball out quickly to the right receivers. The Bengals are an example of a team buying into the philosophy of the coaches and playing as team, not a divided locker room like they had a year ago.

7. Denver -- Tim Tebow had another disappointing day. In watching the tape last week, Tebow struggled primarily in three areas: accuracy in part because of poor mechanics, decision-making in reading defenses and not being willing to throw the ball in tight spots. You cannot accurately evaluate these areas on TV, but my guess is he had the same problems this week. I will look at the tape this week and see if it still held true. In the bigger picture, John Elway and John Fox didn't draft Tebow and I do not believe they would have taken him with the idea he would be their answer at QB. If they are seeing the same issues I am, which just reinforces their doubts on Tebow, the question is how many more games they need to see before they move on to Brady Quinn. I am sure they will give Tebow some time to see if he can improve. If he plays poorly the public will accept it is time to move on, too. I am not optimistic this will have a happy ending for Tim Tebow.

8. Houston -- Good solid win over Jacksonville and its tough defense. Houston's defense has continually improved and is playing at a playoff level despite the loss of Mario Williams. His replacement Brooks Reed had another sack. Arian Foster had another solid game running the ball and appears to have his legs back. The Texans are close to getting Andre Johnson back. It is not far-fetched to believe with their defense playing at the level they are and with Johnson back that the Texans can't contend for the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye.

9. San Francisco -- Another workman-like win. Like Detroit and Cincinnati, the Niners did what playoff teams do and that is beat teams they should beat. Their defensive front continues to set the tone for the defense as they totally shut down the Browns' running game and pressured Colt McCoy. On offense, their offensive line continues to improve as Frank Gore had another big day. Alex Smith has to be in contention for the Comeback Player of the Year Award. I guess you could say 'don't you have to have been good at one time to get this award?' You would probably be right, but let's give him credit for how he has played. Maybe we can call it the 'Resurrection Award'. San Francisco has a more legitimate shot than Houston to get the second seed. With the NFC East and South likely to beat themselves up, the 49ers could get a big advantage in the playoffs if that happens with a bye in the first round and a chance to rest and open at home.

10. Buffalo -- They won their home game in Toronto coming off their bye and outclassed the undermanned Redskins. Ryan Fitzpatrick, armed with his new and well-deserved contract, was his usual efficient self going 21 of 27 for 252 yards with 2 TDs. Fred Jackson continued to add to his Pro Bowl credentials with 120 yards rushing and 74 yards in reception yardage. The Bills are in first place at the half-way point with two critical games in the next month against the Jets. It will be interesting to see how the Jets will fare against Buffalo with two weeks to prepare. I think they are going to cause problems for the Buffalo offense. Buffalo had an incredible nine sacks against Washington. Washington played without six starters on offense, so it might be hard to gauge that defensive performance. Certainly getting their best pass-rusher Chris Kelsay back was a big help. Chan Gailey and Marvin Lewis are my two Coach of the Year candidates right now.

11. Officiating -- Two interesting plays worth discussing today. In the New England-Pittsburgh game there was a called missed late in the game. On a Brady fumble, Troy Polamalu batted the ball toward the end zone, which resulted in a safety. The official missed the call. The Pats should have retained the ball with a first down at their own 32 yard line, but with only 0:08 left in the game it probably would not have mattered as the Pats trailed 23-17. In the Cincinnati-Seattle game -- at the end of the first half, with 0:14 left on a 4th and 2 from the Bengals 3-yard line -- the Seahawks ran the ball and came close to scoring. The official ruled the ball down just short of the goal line. Seattle could not get lined up in time to run another play. The question is should the play have been reviewed because it was a close call? The ruling in that situation is it has to be very clear to the replay man upstairs that it is a TD or otherwise you take the chance of stopping the clock and allowing a team without timeouts a chance to get a free timeout. The play ended up not being reviewed and the half ended. I am sure Seattle felt that Cincinnati did not get off the ball carrier fast enough, but from TV I couldn't tell if that was true.

Charley Casserly can be followed on Twitter @CasserlyCBS


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