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Tomlin preps for Steelers' meaningless finale

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Tomlin preps for Steelers' meaningless finale

PITTSBURGH (AP) For the first time in his six-year head coaching career, Mike Tomlin will go into a game with his team already eliminated from playoff contention.

Tomlin insists he isn't going to treat the week of preparation any differently.

A day after his Pittsburgh Steelers were knocked out of the postseason race with a loss to Cincinnati, Tomlin vowed that injuries would be the only factor dictating lineup changes for the regular-season finale Sunday.

Don't look for an abundance of younger players auditioning for 2013 jobs.

``This is an opportunity to play and play to win, to get this sour taste out of our mouth,'' Tomlin said. ``I am not going to approach it with that (look-ahead to 2013) mentality.''

Among those who won't play for the Steelers (7-8) against the Cleveland Browns (5-10) is tight end Heath Miller, who sustained multiple torn ligaments in his right knee during the loss to the Bengals.

Miller, a prime candidate for the Pro Bowl and team MVP, has torn anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments as well as a possible tear in his posterior cruciate ligament.

Typical recovery time would extend well into next season's training camp. Just this past year, Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall, offensive tackle Max Starks and nose tackle Casey Hampton began camp on the physically unable to perform list after sustaining torn ACLs over the first eight days of January.

``I think we need to let the dust settle to know exactly what it is we're dealing with before we start framing his recovery or his rate of recovery,'' Tomlin said.

``He's been rock-solid for us, and we really appreciate his efforts.''

Miller, of course, faces surgery. Reserve running back Baron Batch had surgery to repair a broken forearm on Monday morning. Tomlin said roster moves will be made to replace those two so that the Steelers are not carrying any ``dead weight'' for Sunday's game.

Starting cornerback Ike Taylor (ankle fracture) is getting closer to being cleared to play after missing the past three games. But Tomlin indicated there isn't any reason to rush him back.

Receiver Mike Wallace (hip strain), rookie guard David DeCastro (left hamstring) and cornerback Curtis Brown (left ankle) also were injured during the Bengals game and will be evaluated throughout the week. Cornerback Keenan Lewis also was noticeably hobbled Sunday.

Tomlin acknowledged that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is ``less than 100 percent,'' but refused to attribute his struggles over the past three games to the effects of a shoulder and rib injury that sidelined him in the previous three contests.

Roethlisberger had 17 touchdowns and four interceptions in nine games before being knocked out against Kansas City Nov. 12. He has had four interceptions in the three games - all losses - since coming back.

Roethlisberger's 58.6 passer rating Sunday was his third worst for a game since Nov. 3, 2008, when he was knocked out of a win at Washington with a shoulder injury.

``You can attribute it to whatever you want to,'' Tomlin said. ``Obviously, the play is what it is. It hasn't been consistently good enough for us to win.''

The same can be said for the Steelers as a whole. Impressive wins at the New York Giants and Baltimore this season were overshadowed by head-scratching losses at Tennessee and Oakland, each on a last-second field goal after Pittsburgh blew a fourth-quarter lead, then failed to win it with a scoring drive later.

``We've been in a lot of close football games and we just consistently haven't made the necessary plays to win those games,'' Tomlin said.

``We're 3-5 in games decided by three points or less; that's just not good enough in the NFL. A lot of games unfold in that manner. You have to make the critical plays down the stretch in those games if you want to be a consistent winner. We haven't done that, and that's why we sit here in the position we are in.''

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The NBA All-Star pregame introductions were, uh, something

The NBA All-Star pregame introductions were, uh, something

Whoever put together the NBA All-Star Game player introductions has some 'splainin to do. 

The NBA introduced a kinda-full Staples Center to their 2018 All-Stars about an hour ago, and boy was it weird. There were a lot of dancers in different themed costumes. Kevin Hart was screaming. Rob Riggle was screaming. Ludacris showed up? Hey! Did you know that the Barenaked Ladies are still a band? The NBA would like you to know they're still around.  The whole thing was like when you're at an art museum and you're told that abstract piece in the corner is actually really meaningful but you gotta be honest, you don't get it. 

Anyways, the internet hated it. Here are some highlights from the internet hating it:

The lesson here is that you never need Kevin Hart and Rob Riggle. One will do. 

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Need to Know: Tandler's Take—Drafting a running back early not a cure-all for Redskins' ground game

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Need to Know: Tandler's Take—Drafting a running back early not a cure-all for Redskins' ground game

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, February 18, 24 days before NFL free agency starts.

Tandler’s Take

The topic for today’s post comes from Twitter:

When I asked for topics for this post, the subject of the running game came up with several of them. And since John brought up the draft, let’s look at that as a potential solution.

Let’s first establish that the Redskins’ running game was not good enough last year. I don’t need to spend a bunch of time on this but here are some numbers. They were 28th in rushing yards and 29th in yards per carry. If you like to weigh more complete metrics, they were 28th in rushing DVOA. If you want to look at a key situation, they were last in the league in yards per first-down rushing attempt. Last year a team gained 100 yards rushing or more 274 times. The Redskins got there five times.

I’m going to leave it at that here since, again, if you’re reading this you probably watched a lot of their games and you don’t need to be persuaded that the running game was largely unproductive. Yes, there were injuries that had the offensive linemen playing snaps just days after being signed and the broken leg suffered by Chris Thompson and Rob Kelley’s various ailments. But the Redskins haven’t ranked higher than 19th in rushing yards since Jay Gruden became the head coach. Rushing game struggles are an ongoing issue.

I am going to work on the premise that those who advocate having the Redskins improve their running game via the draft are talking about drafting a running back in the first or second round. That may be overgeneralizing but that gives me a good-sized chunk of data to work with and still be able to analyze it in the 1000 words or so I am allotted here.

I’m also going to call a 1,000-yard season the minimum that would be expected out of a back drafted in the first two rounds. There are other ways a back can contribute, of course, and we can deal with them separately.

From 2010-2017, there were 45 thousand-yard rushing seasons by players who entered the league during those years (all data via the indispensable Pro Football Reference unless noted). Twelve of them were accomplished by players drafted in the first round. Six came from second-round picks, six from third-rounders, four from the fourth, three from the fifth, four from the sixth and none from the seventh. Oh, and there were 10 thousand-yard seasons that came from undrafted players.

It should be noted that four of those seasons from undrafted players came from the Texans’ Arian Foster. And two each came from LeGarrette Blount and BenJarvus Green-Ellis. So those 10 thousand-yard seasons should not be seen as an indication that there is a treasure trove of running back talent going undrafted every year.

Back to the first and second rounders, the combined 16 thousand-yard seasons doesn’t mean much in isolation. How many backs were drafted in the first two rounds in that time? How many opportunities have they had to post big seasons?

In the past eight drafts, 34 running backs were drafted in the first and second round. That group has had 170 opportunities to post a 1,000-yard season. What I mean by opportunities is the number of seasons that have elapsed since the player was drafted. The six backs drafted in the first two rounds in 2010 have each had eight chances to gain 1,000 yards in a season so they have combined for 48 opportunities (6*8). There were five backs drafted in the first and second seven seasons ago, so there have combined for 35 opportunities, and so on. Through the eight years that adds up to 170 seasons.

The combined 16 thousand-yard seasons in 170 opportunities comes to a success rate of 9.4 percent when it comes to reaching the bar that most fans would set as the minimum.

A couple of things need to be pointed out here. There are some backs like Giovani Bernard, Shane Vereen, and Christian McCaffrey who do not have any big rushing seasons on their resumes but have been valuable catching passes out of the backfield. And some like Dalvin Cook, who was injured after a promising start last year, and McCaffrey seemed destined to have 1,000-yard seasons in their futures. So all of the backs who have not gained 1,000 yards in a season are not necessarily draft busts or failures.

But here are first-round running back busts, just like there are busts at every position. There were 12 running back picked in the first round of the past eight drafts. Javid Best, David Wilson, and Trent Richardson clearly were disappointments (the former two struggled with injuries). Doug Martin, Ryan Mathews, and C.J. Spiller have had some success but perhaps not enough to justify being first-round picks. It took Mark Ingram a while, but he got rolling in his sixth NFL season. I want to see more out of McCaffrey before judging him and Melvin Gordon needs to continue his upward trajectory. It’s safe to say that even with small sample sizes of data in the books on Ezekiel Elliott and Leonard Fournette they were home runs. So was Todd Gurley.

So out of 12 first-round backs in the last eight years, you have three clear busts, three moderate disappointments, four top-level performers (including Ingram) and two TBD.

In any case, it’s clear that just drafting a back early is not a panacea for a struggling running game. Blocking (from both the line and the receivers and other backs), play calling, scheme, and some intangible factors like attitude (as Brian Mitchell will tell you) all play into the success and failure of moving the ball on the ground.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerNBCS and follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.