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Drafting Najee Harris should not lead Steelers to overemphasize ‘commitment’ to running game

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Drafting Najee Harris should not lead Steelers to overemphasize 'commitment' to running game

Steelers team president Art Rooney II does not commonly interact with the public on the subject of the organization’s football plans. There usually is a postseason talk with reporters, and occasionally he will take questions directly from the fan base in an event organized by Steelers Nation United. So when he says something substantial about the state of the Steelers, it tends to gain attention.

“We have to start with a commitment to the running game,” told reporters in January. “And that’s something that I’m not sure we’ve always had.”

“We’ve got to be a lot better in running,” Rooney told fans two months later. “Certainly we don’t want to see the Pittsburgh Steelers being last in the league in rushing again, ever.”

MORE: Where do Steelers fit in SN’s latest NFL Power Rankings?

These can be two different things, and it’s essential that the Steelers not confuse them. A commitment to running the ball need not be the same as a commitment to being good at running the ball. Super Bowl champions tends to understand the difference.

The football people in the organization responded to Rooney’s challenges with a variety of actions that climaxed with the selection of All-American running back Najee Harris of Alabama with the 24th pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, followed by three selections designed to offer more flexibility and depth with the blocking schemes up front.

“We were very excited that he was there for us. When we went through our scenarios, it was an easy decision by us to say if Najee Harris is available, we will pick him,” general manager Kevin Colbert told reporters. “He’s an exciting player. He’s a three-dimensional running back. … It was easy to identify him, quite honestly.”

Now the trick is not to be seduced or coerced into an overemphasis on the run.

The Steelers ranked last in the league in rushing in the 2021 season, as Rooney referenced. That statistic specifically refers to total rushing yards gained. However easy it is to gauge, it can be a deceptive measure of a team’s efficacy in that category.

A team can fare poorly in total rushing yards and still be at least acceptable, and possibly even exceptional with its running game.

A more accurate measure of a team’s ability to run the ball would be yards per attempt. In that category, the Steelers also finished last. It’s hard to be terrible in that department and still be a fully functioning offense. Their abject misery on average — 3.6 yards per carry — was a half-yard poorer than any other team that entered the 2020 playoffs with a winning record.

In the past decade, only three other teams finished last in yards per carry and still finished above the .500 mark, only two others reached the playoffs and only the 2011 New York Giants advanced once there. They became Super Bowl champions, but only after improving on their regular-season performance by 20 percent.

The Steelers also were 28th in rushing touchdowns and 28th in attempts. It’s important to note, however, that running the ball a lot has not been a prerequisite to postseason success, which is where Pittsburgh fell short in 2020.

None of the teams that reached the conference championship games in 2020 ranked higher than 12th in rush attempts. That was where the Packers stood. The Bills were 17th, the Chiefs 23rd and the Bucs 29th.

Some analysts criticized the Steelers for choosing Harris with their first pick. Popular analyst Warren Sharp of SharpFootballAnalysis.com ripped the selection by pointing to the team’s poor recent run blocking and stating, “Imagine thinking a RB will solve this.” There were multiple issues with that statement, starting with the fact that the line from the past several seasons had been completely dismantled, and the Steelers went on to select linemen they expect to contribute in the third (center Kendrick Green) and fourth (tackle Dan Moore).

MORE: The 11 best late-round steals in the 2021 NFL Draft

The line certainly will need to be better in 2020, which is why the Steelers were content to see Maurkice Pouncey retire, and to allow left tackle Alejandro Villanueva and left guard Matt Feiler to walk in free agency.

The only starter back in place is right guard David DeCastro. Last year’s fourth-round pick, Kevin Dotson, will take over at left guard. Zach Banner will be back at right tackle after injuring his knee in the 2020 opener and missing the remainder of the year. Chuks Okorafor, who took over at that spot, will move to left tackle. Green, if he succeeds, will start at center. This group may be better or worse than last year’s, but it will not be the same.

Neither will the approach. The Steelers’ trapping schemes haven’t worked great for a while now. They’ve ranked in the top third of the league in yards per attempt only twice in the past 10 years and finished 22nd on average. Tomlin specifically referenced, in the news conference before the draft, “We’re capable of performing better than we have,” and by that he did not mean the Steelers in general. He meant the coaches in particular. There will be an altered approach under new offensive coordinator Matt Canada.

That should mean the Steelers running differently, and more effectively. If the goal were to be the Ravens (who finished below the Steelers in the 2020 AFC North) or the Titans (who won the same number of playoff games), then a commitment to running the ball more would make sense.

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NBA playoff scenarios 2021: Updated playoff picture, seeds ahead of play-in tournament, first round

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NBA playoff scenarios 2021: Updated playoff picture, seeds ahead of play-in tournament, first round

What do we know about the NBA playoff seedings with just two days remaining in the 2020-21 regular season? Well, not much.

After Friday night’s slate of games, only the 76ers, Celtics and Spurs know exactly where they stand. Philadelphia has clinched the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, while Boston (No. 7 in the East) and San Antonio (No. 10 in the West) have locked in their spots for the play-in tournaments.

NBA STANDINGS: Seeding scenarios, breakdown for playoff spots

With teams still jockeying for position, here is a breakdown of the clinching scenarios for Saturday’s games along with the possible seedings in each conference.

NBA playoff scenarios 2021

Eastern Conference

1. 76ers
2. Nets or Bucks
3. Nets or Bucks
4. Hawks, Heat or Knicks
5. Hawks, Heat or Knicks
6. Hawks, Heat or Knicks
———————————
7. Celtics
8. Hornets, Pacers or Wizards
9. Hornets, Pacers or Wizards
10. Hornets, Pacers or Wizards

  • The Hawks clinch the Southeast Division title with a loss by the Heat.

Western Conference

1. Jazz or Suns
2. Jazz or Suns
3. Nuggets or Clippers
4. Nuggets or Clippers
5. Mavericks or Trail Blazers
6. Mavericks, Trail Blazers or Lakers
—————————
7. Trail Blazers or Lakers
8. Warriors or Grizzlies
9. Warriors or Grizzlies
10. Spurs

  • The Trail Blazers clinch a playoff spot with a loss by the Lakers.
  • The Jazz clinch the best record in the West with a loss by the Suns.

NBA standings 2021: Eastern Conference

Seed Team Record Games back
1. 76ers* 48-23
2. Nets* 46-24 1.5
3. Bucks* 45-25 2.5
4. Hawks* 40-31 8
5. Heat* 39-31 8.5
6. Knicks* 39-31 8.5
7. Celtics** 35-35 12.5
8. Hornets** 33-37 14.5
9. Pacers** 33-37 14.5
10. Wizards** 33-38 15
Bulls 30-40 17.5
Raptors 27-44 21
Cavaliers 22-49 26
Magic 21-50 27
Pistons 20-51 28

*clinched playoff berth
**clinched play-in berth
Eliminated from playoff contention: Bulls, Cavaliers, Magic, Pistons, Raptors

NBA standings 2021: Western Conference

Seed Team Record Games back
1. Jazz* 51-20
2. Suns* 49-21 1.5
3. Nuggets* 47-24 4
4. Clippers* 47-24 4
5. Mavericks* 42-29 9
6. Trail Blazers 41-30 10
7. Lakers 40-30 10.5
8. Warriors** 38-33 13
9. Grizzlies** 38-33 13
10. Spurs** 33-37 17.5
Pelicans 31-40 20
Kings 31-40 20
Timberwolves 22-48 28.5
Thunder 21-50 30
Rockets 17-54 34

*clinched playoff berth
**clinched play-in berth

Eliminated from playoff contention: Kings, Pelicans, Rockets, Thunder, Timberwolves

NBA playoff bracket 2021

(NBA)

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Preakness live race updates, results, highlights from 2021 Triple Crown race

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Preakness live race updates, results, highlights from 2021 Triple Crown race

Two weeks after the Kentucky Derby, the second leg of the Triple Crown Race is here.

The 2021 Preakness Stakes has even more intrigue this year because of the controversy surrounding Medina Spirit, winner of the Derby. A test result from after the race found the horse to have 21 picograms of betamethasone, 11 more than the legal race limit. Trainer Bob Baffert insists that the positive test wasn’t a result of drugging, calling Churchill Downs’ decision to invalidate the horse’s win — pending a second positive test — “an injustice.”

Adding to the controversy: Mandaloun, the runner-up from the Derby, will be retroactively deemed the winner at Churchill Downs should a second test confirm the first. But Mandaloun will not run at the Pimlico Race Course. So we could have a scenario in which Medina Spirit wins the race without being in the official running for the Triple Crown.

All the more reason to watch Saturday’s spectacle. Follow along as Sporting News provides live updates during the 2021 Preakness Stakes.

MORE: Payout breakdown for 2021 Preakness Stakes

Preakness Stakes finish order

This section will be updated with final race results.

Post position Horse Win Place Show
1 Medina Spirit      
2 Mandaloun      
3 Hot Rod Charlie      
4 Essential Quality      
5 O Besos      
6 Midnight Bourbon      
7 Keepmeinmind      
8 Helium      
9 Known Agenda      
10 Highly Motivated      

Watch the 2021 Preakness Stakes

This section will be updated.

Preakness Stakes live updates, highlights, results

All times Eastern

2:49 p.m.: For those curious to see how Medina Spirit will perform in today’s race:

2:23 p.m.: And winner of Race No. 7 at the Preakness: Mischief Afoot.

2:16 p.m.:Your winner for the 2021 Gallorette Stakes: Mean Mary!

2021 Preakness Stakes post time

Coverage of the 2021 Preakness Stakes will begin at 2 p.m. ET on the NBC Sports Network. NBC will take over coverage at 5 p.m. ahead of the race’s scheduled post time of 6:50 p.m. ET.

You can also stream the Stakes live with fuboTV, which offers a seven-day free trial.

Preakness Stakes post positions

Below is the full list of starting spots, as well as each horse’s morning line odds of winning the Preakness Stakes.

Post position Horse Odds
1 Ram 30/1
2 Keepmeinmind 15/1
3 Medina Spirit 9/5
4 Crowded Trade 10/1
5 Midnight Bourbon 5/1
6 Rombauer 12/1
7 France Go De Ina 20/1
8 Unbridled Honor 15/1
9 Risk Taking 15/1
10 Concert Tour 5/2

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Ben Wallace to be inducted into 2021 Basketball Hall of Fame Class, per report

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Ben Wallace to be inducted into 2021 Basketball Hall of Fame Class, per report

The first name of the 2021 Basketball Hall of Fame class has been revealed: former Pistons star Ben Wallace.

Marc Spears of The Undefeated first reported the news of Wallace’s impending enshrinement; several other outlets corroborated the report with their own sources. The entire 2021 enshrinement class will be announced on Sunday.

MORE: How to watch Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan’s HOF induction

Wallace attended Cuyahoga Community College (Cleveland, Ohio) from 1992-94 before transferring to Division II program Virginia Union from 1994-96. Despite his prowess at that level — he was a Division II All-American and led the Panthers to the Division II Final Four in 1996 — he went undrafted.

Wallace played for the Bullets/Wizards (1996-99) and Magic (1999-2000) before finding a long-term home with the Pistons. From 2000-06, Wallace averaged 7.9 points, 12.9 rebounds, 2.8 blocks and 1.6 steals per game with Detroit, winning an NBA championship in 2004. He was the NBA Defensive Player of the Year in 2002, 2003, 2005 and 2006 and a four-time All-Star from 2003-06.

Other accolades from that time include making at least All-NBA Third Team every year from 2002-06; earning All-Defensive First Team honors from 2002-06; becoming the NBA rebounds leader in consecutive seasons in 2002 and 2003; and becoming the NBA blocks leader in 2002.

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