Mon Dec 5 3:15pm ET
By WILL GRAVES
AP Sports Writer
PITTSBURGH (AP) When he's at his best, Najee Harris is a blunt instrument. Powerful. Decisive. Destructive. Capable of imposing his will - usually in the form of a stiff arm - whenever the mood strikes.
The Pittsburgh Steelers running back displayed that in a 19-16 win over Atlanta on Sunday, shoving Falcons safety Richie Grant into the turf with his right arm during a first-quarter run that showed why head coach Mike Tomlin remains committed to Harris after a sluggish start.
While regularly fielding questions about whether Jaylen Warren should get increased playing time, Tomlin has praised the development of the undrafted rookie free agent but hasn't wavered in his support of Harris. Any path the Steelers had toward relevance on offense this season started with Harris, who spent the first two months playing behind a line that was spotty at best while standing next to a pair of quarterbacks finding their way in a new system.
The line is starting to coalesce. Rookie QB Kenny Pickett is starting to figure things out. And Harris is starting to regularly flash the talent that made the Steelers so high on him in the first place.
Pittsburgh (5-7) has won 3 of 4 following a 2-6 start. That Harris is averaging 4.6 yards per carry over that span - a full 1.3 yards better than his average over the Steelers' first eight games - is not a coincidence. While down the road the offense likely will revolve around Pickett, at the moment Pittsburgh's identity is attached to a player whose ability to lead by example became so apparent to his teammates they elected him a co-captain at age 24.
Harris ran for 86 yards against Atlanta despite missing two days of practice with an abdominal injury sustained in a victory over Indianapolis that needed be checked out at a hospital. He hardly looked banged up Sunday, approaching his job with a fury that is a throwback of sorts on a team whose lineage at Harris' position is littered with Pro Bowlers and Hall of Famers.
It's telling of Tomlin's confidence in Harris that the coach held the RB out of practice in an effort to essentially protect Harris from himself and keep him healthy in time to play.
''I just knew that it was going to be this type of (bruising) football game,'' Tomlin said.
The kind the Steelers will try to play regularly down the stretch. There's still only a remote chance Pittsburgh makes the playoffs. That the postseason remains even a part of the discussion is a tribute to the mediocrity in the middle of the pack in the AFC, a schedule the rest of the way that isn't exactly overwhelming and the team's identity coming into focus.
Run the ball. A lot if necessary, with Harris leading the way, one stiff arm at a time.
Offensive coordinator Matt Canada's game plan between the 20s. The Steelers are averaging 157.8 yards rushing over their last four games, the second highest over any five-game span of head coach Mike Tomlin's 16-year tenure. The ability to hog the ball has allowed Pittsburgh to move into the top 10 in time of possession, meaning the defense is fresher later in games, a serious issue early in the season when the Steelers had trouble moving the ball.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Canada's game plan in the red zone. Pittsburgh has turned just 49% of its red-zone possessions into touchdowns, which is 26th best in the league. That number needs to tick up considerably if the Steelers want to put together a realistic shot at a playoff push.
Pittsburgh finally found a successor to Heath Miller at tight end in Pat Freiermuth. Freiermuth has become the kind of dependable, no-frills option for Pickett that Miller was for years for Ben Roethlisberger. Nearly 60% of Freiermuth's 50 receptions have gone for first downs, the second-highest conversion percentage on the team.
T.J. Watt is one of the best players in the NFL. He also is not close to 100% healthy. He has just 12 tackles and half a sack in three games since returning from a torn left pectoral. A rib injury appeared to slow him on Sunday. The silver lining: While his production is down, his presence forces teams to compensate, opening things up for his teammates to make plays.
K Chris Boswell is eligible to return from injured reserve this week, though Tomlin did not indicate whether Boswell's groin has healed enough for that to be a possibility. Replacement Matthew Wright has kicked well recently, making all 15 of his kicks (five extra points, 10 field goals) over the last three weeks.
500 - The number of regular-season wins the Steelers have since the 1970 merger, tops in the NFL. Dallas is second at 480.
Try to keep the momentum going next Sunday against AFC North rival Baltimore (8-4). The Ravens could be without QB Lamar Jackson, who left a win over Denver with a knee injury.
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (knee) is being called "week-to-week" and head coach John Harbaugh said he is "less likely to play" in Week 14 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Tyler Huntley will draw the start in his absence. Last season, Huntley had a 35-point fantasy outing and he has real rushing upside, so he's a must-pick-up in two-quarterback and Superflex leagues. Even in single-quarterback leagues, he should be on the fantasy radar as a high-end streamer against the Steelers defense that has allowed the ninth-most fantasy points per game this season. Jackson's fantasy managers will have to hope he is back in time for the fantasy football playoffs.
Seattle Seahawks running back Kenneth Walker III reportedly has a strain on his foot/inside his ankle, but the injury is not viewed as serious or season-ending. Head coach Pete Carroll said Walker could potentially play in Week 14 against the Carolina Panthers, but it's too early to know. Walker has become a must-start if active, but DeeJay Dallas and Travis Homer (out in Week 13 with illness) will become flex candidates if Walker is can't play. Seattle surely feels confident in their chances to beat the lowly Panthers without Walker, so there's a chance they rest him as a caution as a playoff contender.
Tennessee Titans wide receiver Treylon Burks is in concussion protocol after taking a vicious hit after a touchdown reception in the loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. As with most head injuries, it's too early to know whether or not he could play against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 14. It's never a good idea to speculate on a concussion, either. That said, if he does play, he'd be a high-end flex candidate against a struggling Jaguars' secondary. If he's out, Robert Woods and Nick Westbrook-Ikhine would be the top wideouts for Ryan Tannehill, but neither belongs on the fantasy radar in traditional leagues.
Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence is having an MRI on his left foot after suffering a scary-looking injury in the loss to the Detroit Lions. Lawrence's injury looked very serious at first glance, but head coach Doug Pederson said I think things are trending in the right direction." It's unclear whether or not Lawrence will be limited in practice or miss any game action, but the MRI results will bring some clarity to the situation. Lawrence came into Week 13 with a lot of hype against a struggling Lions' defense, but Jacksonville couldn't get anything going. If Lawrence is good to go, he'll face a struggling Titans' secondary in Week 14.
Dynasty | Isiah Pacheco produced 66 yards and a touchdown across 14 carries in the Chiefs loss to the Bengals in week 13. Dynasty Analysis: He also added two receptions for 16 yards. Since being named the starter, Pacheco has averaged nearly 17 carries per contest, producing 81 yards per game and scoring in back-to-back games. With Clyde Edwards-Helaire out of the equation for at least the next two weeks, and likely thereafter, the rookie should continue to factor as the Chiefs' carry-the-load option as he simply brings an additional level of dynamic not seen previously. Pacheco is found as a wide ranging RB45 on DLF running back rankings.
Carolina Panthers interim head coach Steve Wilks said that he expects running back D'Onta Foreman (foot, ribs) and defensive end Brian Burns (knee) to be ready for Week 14 against the Seattle Seahawks after they were both injured in the Week 12 win over the Denver Broncos. Foreman had 24 carries for 113 yards before the Week 13 bye, and the time off last week appears to have done him some good. The 26-year-old will continue to lose valuable backfield touches to Chuba Hubbard, but he has hit the 100-yard mark four times in 2022 and remains the most attractive fantasy option in the Panthers backfield going forward.
Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott kept his touchdown streak alive in the 54-19 blowout win over the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday night, carrying the ball a team-high 17 times for 77 yards and a touchdown. He also caught all three of his targets for 14 yards in the passing game. Elliott now has seven touchdowns in his last five games despite the fact that backfield mate Tony Pollard continues to look more explosive. The one-two punch of Pollard and Elliott has been working wonders for the Cowboys offense this year, and it should continue in Week 14 against the lowly Houston Texans. Elliott will enter that contest as the RB23 in half-point PPR scoring with 654 rushing yards and eight touchdowns on 157 carries in his 10 games played.
Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jonathan Bullard (biceps) may not need surgery on a biceps injury that he suffered in the Week 13 win over the New York Jets, according to a source. The hope is that he can return to the field soon. Bullard suffered a biceps injury in the first half on Sunday and never returned to the contest. The 29-year-old has been playing a rotational role along the team's defensive line, but there's a good chance he won't be ready to play in Week 14 against the Detroit Lions. If he misses time moving forward, the Vikings will ask James Lynch and Dalvin Tomlinson to step up. Bullard has 23 tackles (17 solo) and five tackles for loss in 11 games (seven starts) in his first year in Minnesota in 2022.
Los Angeles Chargers defensive end Sebastian Joseph-Day (knee) is still getting tests on his injured right knee on Monday, but the belief is that he avoided a major injury in the Week 13 loss to the division-rival Las Vegas Raiders. Joseph-Day had five tackles (one solo) in Sunday's game before he was lost due to injury in the fourth quarter in Las Vegas. It remains to be seen if he'll be able to play in Week 14 against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday night, but it looks like the 27-year-old will return again this year. Joseph-Day has posted 44 tackles (21 solo), seven tackles for loss, five QB hits, one safety, one sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in 12 starts for the Chargers in his first year with the team.
Carolina Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold will get the start in Week 14 against the Seattle Seahawks, with P.J. Walker serving as his backup. The move was essentially in the cards when Darnold replaced the now waived Baker Mayfield in the starting lineup in the Week 12 win over the Denver Broncos before the Week 13 bye. Darnold threw for 164 yards with no turnovers and a touchdown before the bye. It wasn't anything spectacular, but it wasn't a disaster either. The Panthers will likely try to continue relying on their ground game with Darnold under center, which makes him nothing more than a low-end QB2 option in superflex leagues as long as he keeps the starting job in Carolina.
Dallas Cowboys cornerback Anthony Brown (Achilles) suffered a torn left Achilles in Sunday night's win over the Indianapolis Colts and is out for the rest of the season, according to owner Jerry Jones. The season-ending injury was confirmed after tests on Monday. The 28-year-old will finish his seventh season for the Cowboys with 42 tackles (33 solo), seven passes defensed and a forced fumble in 12 starts. Kelvin Joseph will be the first man up to replace Brown in a starting role opposite Trevon Diggs for the Cowboys. It's a very notable loss for Dallas' secondary the rest of the way.
Dynasty | D'Andre Swift led all Lions' running backs with 18 touches, producing 62 yards and a touchdown across 14 carries. Dynasty Analysis: He also reeled in 4-of-6 targets for 49 yards. The touch volume matched his week-one output and he outpaced Jamaal Williams for the first time since week one as well. Appearing fully healthy, it's uncertain what to expect from the running back duo as Williams continues to produce while leading the league in touchdown production with 14. Swift is undeniably one of the most dynamic backs with the ball in his hands but cannot remain off the trainer's table when volume increases. Whether this remains a consistent theme into the future or not, Swift has already seen a slide in his dynasty value, now appearing as DLF's RB6. He remains a shaky RB1 as the off-season approaches.
Dynasty | Travis Etienne underwhelmed with 54 rushing yards across 13 carries in the Jaguars' loss to the Lions in week 13 Dynasty Analysis: He also chipped in with three receptions for 12 yards. Returning from a foot injury, Etienne has now produced only 57 yards on 15 carries, a far cry from his three back-to-back 100-yard performances starting in late October. Etienne shares had been flying off the shelves as yardage and touchdown production exploded but whether he remains injured or that defensive schemes have adjusted, fantasy points have been hard to come by in recent weeks. Still only 23 and with a firm grasp of the team's lead-back role, arrows remain up for the talented runner, found as DLF's RB5.
Dynasty | Jets quarterback Mike White threw for 369 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions in the team's loss to the Vikings in week 13. Dynasty Analysis: On one hand, White has looked the part as the team's new starter while, on the other, it's uncertain whether he's done enough to garner enough confidence to be handed the reins permanently. Regardless, he's looked far better than sophomore quarterback Zach Wilson who is unlikely to regain the starting role in 2022. White is now 1-1 as a starter and has thrown for 684 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions. His time under-center has provided a spark for the offense, most notably for rookie receiver Garrett Wilson and White, a free agent in 2023, is auditioning for a role somewhere next year. He remains unranked on DLF's quarterback rankings but one more week of upside production may be enough to spark a slow rise in dynasty value, specifically in superflex formats.
Dynasty | Jets rookie receiver Garrett Wilson produced 162 yards on 8-of-15 receiving but failed to score a touchdown in the team's loss to the Vikings in week 13. Dynasty Analysis: With a 57/794/4 line thus far in 2022, it appears as though Wilson will easily surpass the 1,000-yard threshold in his rookie season, a compelling accomplishment considering the Jets quarterback woes to date. Specifically, a change under-center to Mike White has put wind in Wilson's sails and there appears to be no threat of hitting the rookie wall. While the team's quarterback saga continues to play out, it appears as though the wide receiver room, led by Wilson, finally is in good shape. He's listed as DLF's WR15 and is on the rise.
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (knee) is feared to have suffered a knee sprain in the Week 13 win over the Denver Broncos that could cause him to miss some time. Head coach John Harbaugh said that Jackson's injury isn't season-ending, so we should see him again this year, but it remains to be seen how much time he might miss. Jackson is going to undergo an MRI exam on Monday. Fantasy managers need to prepare for the possibility that the 25-year-old dual-threat QB misses a few games. Tyler Huntley replaced Jackson on Sunday and went 27-for-32 for 187 yards, no touchdowns and an interception in the win over Denver. He also carried the ball 10 times for 41 yards and a score. Huntley will be in play in superflex leagues if he makes any starts for Baltimore.
The Carolina Panthers waived quarterback Baker Mayfield on Monday. Mayfield asked to be released by the organization and was granted his wish. The move locks in the fifth-rounder in the trade with the Cleveland Browns, rather than a fourth-round pick. With Mayfield out of the picture in Carolina, P.J. Walker is expected to serve as Sam Darnold's backup in Week 14 against the Seattle Seahawks. Teams like the Houston Texans, Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers might want to give Mayfield a shot this year. The 27-year-old wasn't the savior the Panthers were hoping he'd be, as he completed 57.8 percent of his passes and threw for 1,313 yards, six touchdowns and six interceptions in his seven games (six starts).
Dynasty | Cam Akers produced 60 yards and two touchdowns across 17 carries in the Rams' loss to the Seahawks in week 13 Dynasty Analysis: Akers led all backs on the day, most notably out-touching Kyren Williams 18-3. The release of Darrell Henderson has breathed new life into Akers' production runway and, while the team remains putrid on offense following the loss of Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp and Allen Robinson, there's reasons to believe Akers could be an upside play into the near-future. As always, investing in any Sean McVay running back is a tricky proposition. Still only 23 years-of-age and appearing fully recovered from his 2021 Achilles injury, there's reasons to be optimistic on DLF's fading RB31 for those prone to intriguing speculation.
Dynasty | The Panthers are expected to release Baker Mayfield Dynasty Analysis: The experiment has completely failed and it appears the the team will turn back to Sam Darnold while awaiting the 2023 NFL Draft. More intriguing for Mayfield will be the waivers process as multiple teams have need at the position and, while the veteran has been far from good in recent years, he's arguably better than multiple current starters across the league. "Arguably" being the operative word. Still only 27, Mayfield is listed as DLF's QB35 and his only remaining value appears to be as a fading asset dart throw in superflex formats. San Francisco anyone?
Dynasty | Running back Najee Harris produced 86 yards on 17 carries in the Steelers' victory over Atlanta in week 13. Dynasty Analysis: The Steelers have quietly won three of four and Harris has looked like his old self with the ball in his hands, though reception volume remains muted. Over his past four games, he's produced 310 yards and three touchdowns on 67 carries, good for a 4.6 ypc. average. With many off the Harris bandwagon citing similarities to mega-bust Trent Richardson, it's now beginning to appear as though that overlay may be inaccurate and, instead, simply be due to a team struggling to find its footing after the retirement of Ben Roethlisberger. In any event, Najee Harris is found as DLF's RB13 and remains a battleground acquisition target.