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Week 16 thoughts: Vikings put Peterson in harm's way for no reason

by | CBS Sports

1. Detroit -- Congratulations to Martin Mayhew and Jim Schwartz for the incredible turnaround from 0-16 to the playoffs in just three years. The two areas I want to focus on are the selection of Martin Mayhew as GM and the drafting of Matt Stafford. When I was GM of the Redskins, Martin Mayhew started for us as a cornerback on our 1991 Super Bowl champion team. When I left the Redskins in September of 1999, one of my last acts was to recommend the hiring of Martin Mayhew, who I thought was a bright and hardworking player who was prepared for an executive career in the NFL. When he was hired as GM in Detroit the move was criticized because he had already worked in Detroit for a franchise that had not won. In my mind that was a poor reason to say he would not succeed. If you are a smart guy like Martin you can learn, and he did. He hired a good coach in Jim Schwartz. He had a clear picture of what he wanted the team to look like and stuck to his philosophy of drafting the best player. This Detroit team is not a one-year wonder. As long as Matthew Stafford is healthy they will have a winning team. In taking Stafford he had to make a decision of selecting him over Mark Sanchez and Josh Freeman. To me it was an easy decision to make at the time and the Lions never wavered from their belief that Stafford was the top guy. Up until this year many people favored Freeman and/or Sanchez over Stafford, but now that Stafford has played a full season it is easy to see the difference.

2. New York Giants -- I spoke to Antrel Rolle last week and he told me that the Giants were very focused in practices, saying they had a great tempo and were convinced they were going to win. I guess he was right. One of the highlights of the game was Eli Manning's 99-yard TD pass to Victor Cruz -- who, as a result of his performance against the Jets, broke the Giants' single-season record receiving yards. Jerry Reese (Giants GM) took a lot of heat for not signing Steve Smith, but Reese had enough confidence in Cruz to step in and play well that he wasn't willing to give Smith more than the Giants deemed him worth. When the Giants were getting hit with injuries during the season at the receiver position, I asked Reese if he felt they needed to look for a veteran receiver, and once again he expressed total confidence in Cruz. This is a perfect example of trusting your scouting department and the player-development ability of your coaches. The Giants proved right on both points as Cruz has flourished and Smith didn't make it through the season.

3. Minnesota -- Three points hit me about the game between the Vikings and Redskins. The first is the injury to Adrian Peterson. Simply put, I don't think he should've been playing in the first place. He'd been injured over the last few weeks, and as GM I would have gone to the coach and suggested we drag his rehab out for the rest of the season. Winning a game or two here at the expense of losing your best player is not worth it. The next point is Joe Webb. Leslie Frazier made a decision to move Donavan McNabb to the No. 3 quarterback and put Joe Webb in a position to get more reps in practice to be better situated as the backup behind Christian Ponder. At the time the focus was on them releasing McNabb, not the promotion of Webb. It is easy to see now that was the right move as Webb lead the Vikes to a win this week. The third point is Ponder took two hits to the head in this game. The second one sent him to the locker room with a concussion (announced by the Vikings during the game) and he did not return. In both cases, the NFL medical advisor called down to the Vikings to inform them of what he saw, so in those cases the system worked the way it was designed.

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4. New York Jets -- The Jets are a longshot but not completely out of the playoffs. They need to beat Miami next week, which I don't think they will do, but if they do they would need Cincinnati to lose to Baltimore (possible), Tennesse to lose to Houston (possible), and either Denver to lose to KC or Oakland to lose to SD (both possible). Many people -- including myself -- think that Rex Ryan has been too vocal as coach of the Jets. But I will say this: he has made the Jets relevant in New York, and with a team that had to sell tickets in a new stadium, that was important. Still, I think he needs to tone it down. The real question is whether he's gotten the Jets to play at their maximum level for the past three years. I think he has. His defense has always been strong even though he doesn't have a great pass rusher. And on offense, Mark Sanchez is only in his third season and possibly could lead the Jets to three straight playoff appearances. Sanchez is still young and learning. I don't think he has elite physical skills, but the Jets have maximized his talents. Rex's time in N.Y. should not be questioned as to whether he has done a good job as their head coach. He has.

5. Cincinnati -- A great story that has been lost in a season of other great turnarounds in San Francisco, Houston, Denver, Tennessee and Detroit. Cincinnati should be a model for a number of franchises experiencing down years. Mike Brown re-hired Marvin Lewis last year after a disappointing season, which in part was caused by a number of injuries. He looked past their record and saw a team that didn't underachieve, but rather, was simply not good enough because of the injuries and problems caused by Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco. He rid himself of those problems and even got a draft pick for Ochocinco. Brown didn't blink when Carson Palmer decided to retire. He drafted a young quarterback in Andy Dalton, but he didn't force it. Instead, he used his first pick to take a future Pro Bowl receiver in A.J. Green. A number of teams this year that are losing could be next year's Cincinnati if the owner has the foresight to do what Mike Brown did. Andy Dalton continues to impress me with his poise and decision-making ability, and he showed it again versus Arizona. Marvin Lewis told me last week that one of the things he likes best about Dalton is he learns from his mistakes.

6. St Loius -- The Rams have one game left with San Francisco, and if they lose (which I think will happen), and if the Colts beat Jacksonville, they will have the first pick in the draft. If the Rams fire Steve Spagnuolo it would be unfortunate. I believe the Rams could be next year's Bengals. This will be the best job in the NFL as far as openings go, except for possibly of the San Diego job being available. I would not trade Sam Bradford. He played well a year ago. He just needs some help at wide receiver and a speed back. If their injured tackles, Roger Saffold and Jason Smith, come back, and they re-sign Brandon Lloyd to go along with Lance Kendricks (TE) and Greg Scales (WR), this offense will look completely different. With the first pick in the draft and Andrew Luck as a trade option, this becomes a great trade opportunity to build this football team. There isn't one thing that I have outlined here that would not happen if Steve Spagnuolo is the head coach next year. On defense you have two good ends in Chris Long and rookie Robert Quinn, a middle linebacker in James Laurinaitis and some good young secondary talent when healthy. If Spagnuolo is let go he will have his pick of jobs as a defensive coordinator. The tragic part of this is if Spagnuolo had stayed in New York, he would have been the heir apparent to Tom Coughlin when he retires. Spagnuolo was advised not to take the Rams job because the team was going to be sold. I hope he doesn't regret taking the job.

7. Jacksonville -- Lost in this season, to me, has been the great season Maurice Jones-Drew has had. Sunday against Tennessee he had another terrific day. He rushed 24 times for 103 yards, while also catching six passes. He could lead the NFL in rushing and he is doing this with a rookie quarterback in Blaine Gabbert, who isn't ready to start in the NFL, not to mention a very limited group of wide receivers, which puts teams in a position to load up the box. In Sunday's game he left the field limping but came back in to finish the game. Gabbert showed some more positives Sunday than he had recently. He has all the ability to make the throws, including special throws. He has the mobility to make plays outside the pocket. I have to admit I have seen some bad body language from him at times, but I would be careful to write him off now. Jacksonville told me their research showed no quarterback in NFL history at his age has started this many games. I would like to see how he would have done with Cincinnati's receivers and offensive line. I believe Dalton would still have outperformed him, but we would have seen better play out of Gabbert than we have in Jacksonville.

8. Indianapolis -- With their last-second win over Houston, the Colts put themselves in a position to lose the first pick in the NFL Draft. The question then becomes if they think Robert Griffin can be their quarterback of the future. I don't have an opinion on that yet and won't until I can study him in the offseason. It's easy to say the Colts should "rest" players next week to lose the game and secure Andrew Luck. This is fantasy football. The players want to win and will play to win. You can't control what happens in the game, so just let it play out. That is what I thought when I was a GM in the NFL. Now in the media I have to admit I would be tempted to "rest" some players and alter my game strategy to ensure I got the top pick. Just think what would have happened if the Packers had gotten the first pick and drafted Troy Aikman which they lost on the last day of the season by winning and not drafted Tony Mandarich. The Colts are another team that will have the potential for a quick turnaround next year with a healthy Peyton Manning. I could see them back in the playoffs next year.

9. Houston -- They are struggling without Andre Johnson and T.J. Yates at quarterback. There are not any plans for the Texans to change QBs and they shouldn't. They have to look at these games Yates is playing as training games for the playoffs. With Johnson back in the lineup that will give the Texans the deep game they are missing now, which will open up things up for other receivers and take some pressure off the running game. Last Thursday Yates was 13-for-16, but for only 132 yards. I still think even with Johnson's return and the improvement Yates will make, his accuracy will hurt the Texans in the playoffs.

10. Pittsburgh -- They rested Ben Roethlisberger Sunday after he didn't show much improvement with his injured ankle. The Steelers would like Roethlisberger to play next week and expect center Maurkice Pouncey to play. They have a chance to win the division if Cincinnati upsets Baltimore, which they can do. I would not play him against Cleveland next week. They will need Big Ben to win the Super Bowl. By starting Charlie Batch, who was passable against St. Louis (15 for 22 for 208 yards and 1 interception), a sense of urgency was sent to the defense and the rest of the offense. Mike Tomlin told me in these situations he preaches a "no excuses" mentality to his players. Against St. Louis they responded with a 27-0 victory. With a healthier Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers are more equipped to win on the road than any team in the AFC. Remember, a team with a good defense travels well.

More thoughts on Week 16:

HGH testing proposal by NFLPA:

1. No in-season testing. A test at the preseason physical is proposed. There would be testing in the offseason.

2. Only 10 percent of the players will be tested.

3. 24-hour notification for the player in the offseason. The player can only be tested between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. in the offseason.

4. A player may decline a test if he feels it is an unfair infringement on a personal or professional commitment. The administrator will determine if this is legit.

5. If a player misses three tests for a non-valid reason he can be disciplined at a max of one regular season game. The key point to me is there is no in-season testing. HGH is a performance-enhancing drug that can be out or your system in some cases as fast as eight hours. The only way to ensure a clean game is to have random testing with all athletes eligible on the day of the game.

Andre Johnson -- The Texans told me that they plan on playing him about 20-30 plays against Tennessee, with the reason being to get him back in the flow of the offense, and even more importantly, to get the extra work with a new quarterback in T.J. Yates.

Defenseless players -- This is a hot topic among coaches and GMs. The NFL's instructions are for the officials to error on the side of caution, and therefore on the side of calling the penalty. But inevitably, this leads to guessing by the officials. When I was on the Competition Committee we instructed the officials to only call what they saw, don't guess. I would rather see the officials return to this policy. A 15-yard penalty can be devastating to a team and often can't be rectified. I believe fines can alter behavior, and stiff fines are a more fair way to discipline the player because you now have the advantage of tape review to be sure he committed the penalty.

Trainer in the press box -- I understand the reasoning but do not agree with it. I don't think it's necessary. The argument to have a trainer in the press box can best be summarized by what happened in Cleveland with Colt McCoy, who was allowed to go back into the game after taking a serious head shot from Pittsburgh's James Harrison. If a trainer were in the press box, perhaps the severity of the hit would've been recognized and McCoy would've then been held out. But I feel that this was, first, and isolated incident, and second, anyone of the sideline should've been able to see and relay the extent of that hit. I will say that if I was going to endorse this idea of having a trainer in the press box, I would wait until next year to give teams time to interview and select their observer and allow the NFL time to train them, as it's been reported that Cincinnati's trainer came from a local high school.

Charley Casserly can be followed on Twitter @CasserlyCBS


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