Adam Levitan

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Into the Depths

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Mike Tomlin is one of my favorite coaches in all of sports.

He holds everyone accountable, regardless of salary or draft status. He’s demanding, hard-edged and extremely professional at all times. Tomlin was recently asked about injuries and his perfect response sums up his attitude about everything:

“Excuses are tools of the incompetent.”

So with the Steelers now coming off an eight-turnover game, teetering on the brink of the playoff picture with a 6-5 record and facing a road game in Baltimore this week, Tomlin is taking no prisoners.

He threw the gauntlet down on Tuesday, announcing to the world that former sixth-round pick Jonathan Dwyer is his new No. 1 back. Former first-rounder Rashard Mendenhall goes from the top spot to No. 3. Isaac Redman stays at No. 2. Tomlin could have kept this news secret, keeping us guessing up to Sunday like most coaches do. But that’s not his style. He’s up-front about injuries and forthcoming when he's not happy with a player's production. I do not think this is a simple motivational ploy to get Mendy fired up.

Tomlin’s explanation was simple. Dwyer has consistently been the most productive guy of the three. Period. Mendenhall fumbled twice last week, losing one of them, and is averaging 3.32 yards per carry (YPC) on the season. The ACL tear is not an excuse. Dwyer, meanwhile, is averaging 4.37 YPC. When he was the unquestioned feature back in Weeks 7 and 8, he recorded back-to-back 100-yard games.

As long as Dwyer doesn’t fumble, he’s a good bet for 15 touches against the Ravens this week. He gets the first crack at that “hot hand.” Owners in desperate need of running back help should take a gander.

Tomlin wasn’t done at running back. He also announced that Mike Wallace is no longer his clear-cut starter at split end. He’s a “co-starter” along with Emmanuel Sanders, meaning they’ll have certain plays for each of them in two-wide sets. Antonio Brown’s ankle is healthy and he’ll be the every-down flanker.

It’s not a real reason for Wallace owners to panic. If Charlie Batch starts Sunday, I’m not playing 60 Minutes no matter what. If it’s Ben Roethlisberger (questionable, ribs), the three-wide set will be a base formation.

It’s easy to poo-poo DeAngelo Williams as an upside play even though Jonathan Stewart has been diagnosed with a high-ankle sprain. Williams is averaging a pitiful 3.20 YPC this season and he’ll lose goal-line work to Cam Newton/ Mike Tolbert. He’s looked downright sluggish and disinterested. But for some guys, that’s what happens when you’re benched and making heaps of cash.

Now that Williams knows he’s locked into the starting job and will get 13-20 touches weekly, he’s liable to get an energy injection. Remember that despite this season’s woes, he’s still has a gaudy career YPC of 4.91. And he gets a Chiefs team that has packed it in this week, followed by the Falcons, Chargers and Raiders. I’d be excited about owning him.

Titus Young still isn’t back with the Lions. He’s not going to play ahead of exciting rookie Ryan Broyles anyway. … Nick Foles will get another start in Week 13. Expect him to start the rest of the way with the Eagles in full-blown evaluation mode. … Coach Jim Harbaugh said he will formally announce his quarterback midweek. If Colin Kaepernick doesn’t get another start, it would be a shock.

DeSean Jackson (ribs) is done for the year. Look for Damaris Johnson and Riley Cooper to split up his chances going forward. Yawn. … Danny Amendola (foot) emerged from his seven-snap showing in Week 12 without a setback. He’s got a shot to practice this week. … Greg Jennings (groin) is expected to play on a limited snap count this week. Look for a rotation with James Jones. … Miles Austin (hip) looks like he’ll give it a go this week. Risky.

LeSean McCoy (concussion) is nowhere near getting cleared. It’s the Bryce Brown show. … Jalen Parmele (groin) is looking doubtful for Week 13 on injured reserve. Rashad Jennings will be the feature back until Maurice Jones-Drew (foot) gets back. If that ever happens. … Kendall Hunter (Achilles) is done for the year. It’s a downgrade for Frank Gore handcuffers, who now must turn to Brandon Jacobs. … Matt Forte’s ankle injury is not serious, but Michael Bush still needs to be rostered. Forte is questionable for Week 13. … Ben Tate (hamstring) is ready to return, but he’ll be eased in slowly.

Adding a different D/ST each week based on matchups is a fine strategy. Here are three units that might be on waivers to consider for streaming purposes:

* For more waiver thoughts at all positions, check out Chris Wesseling’s latest here.

1. RAVENS vs. Steelers – In some shallow leagues, the Ravens may have been dropped as they sunk to 27th in total defense heading into last week. Scoop them back up. If inept turnover machine Charlie Batch starts behind a decimated offensive line again, there won’t be many better D/ST plays. The Browns D/ST was the top play in this space last week and they paid off handsomely by forcing eight turnovers.

2. JETS vs. Cardinals – In a home game against the Rams last week, rookie QB Ryan Lindley threw zero touchdowns and four interceptions. He consistently missed an open Larry Fitzgerald. Now he has to go across the country, on the road, in the cold. Trouble, even against a weak Jets’ defense.

3. COWBOYS vs. Eagles – Simply put, this Eagles team doesn’t value the football. It doesn’t matter who is in the lineup, starters or backups. Nick Foles didn’t throw any picks against the Panthers on Monday night, but at least two of his first-half passes should have been ripped and taken to the house.

Adam Levitan is in his sixth season covering football and basketball for Rotoworld. He won the Fantasy Sports Writers Association award for Best Series in 2011 and 2009, and ESPN's overall fantasy football title in 2000. Find him on Twitter.
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