Steelers hoping to slow record penalty pace
Mike Tomlin might be a perfectionist, but he’s a realist
The Pittsburgh Steelers coach knows penalties are going to
happen. He can tolerate mistakes – to a point anyway – and makes no
excuses when he sees the flag fly.
It’s just that he’d prefer not to see the yellow hankies in
flight so often, which at the moment seems to be nearly all the
The Steelers (2-2), who have long prided themselves on their
discipline, are playing like a team that doesn’t have much.
Pittsburgh leads the NFL in penalties per game (9.2) and penalty
yards per game (86.5) and is on pace to shatter team records in
”In some instances we have some guys working hard and not
necessarily smart,” Tomlin said. ”Those things usually smooth
themselves out as you push through the first quarter of the
Maybe, but at this point there’s nowhere to go but up heading
into Thursday’s game at Tennessee (1-4). While penalties were up
across the league when the replacement officials were working,
they’ve come back down to earth a bit since the regular referees
returned to work.
Just not in Pittsburgh.
The Steelers were flagged nine times for 106 yards in a 16-14
win over Philadelphia last week and were fortunate the repeated
miscues didn’t send them to their first two-game losing streak in
Personal foul penalties on safeties Ryan Clark and Ryan Mundy
gave the Eagles 30 free yards on a third quarter touchdown drive
that got Philadelphia back in the game and left guard Willie
Colon’s holding penalty on the first play of Pittsburgh’s final
possession – the fourth flag Colon drew on the day – pushed the
Steelers all the way back to their 10.
Pittsburgh rallied behind quarterback Ben Roethlisberger but the
Steelers are well aware they don’t have a ton of wiggle room as it
is and handing out a football field’s worth of penalty yardage a
game isn’t exactly good for business.
”They’re just small mental errors,” center Maurkice Pouncey
said. ”It’s a part of football. Sometimes it happens. That’s
something that we’ve got to tighten up if we want to be the team we
want to be.”
Perhaps, but the truth is the Steelers have climbed the ranks of
the most penalized teams in the league under Tomlin. Pittsburgh was
one of the eight fewest penalized teams in the NFL in each of Bill
Cowher’s finals three years on the sideline.
Since Tomlin took over in 2007, the trend has reversed. The
Steelers have been among the 10 most penalized teams three times
over the last five seasons and barring a significant and immediate
downturn will make it four out of six this fall.
The flags haven’t stopped Pittsburgh from being one of the
league’s elite teams, but the club’s margin for error is slimmer
than ever. The Steelers are 0-2 on the road this year, including a
34-31 setback in Oakland last month in which the Raiders used a
handful of Pittsburgh infractions to put together a spirited
The Steelers insist they’re not trying to develop a reputation,
but they may have gotten one anyway. Linebacker James Harrison has
enjoyed a steady stream of fines over the last three years while
Mundy has already been docked $21,000 for his helmet-to-helmet hit
on Oakland wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey that knocked
Heyward-Bey out cold.
A second fine could be coming if league officials feel the
15-yard penalty Mundy received for slamming into Philadelphia’s
Jeremy Maclin on Sunday wasn’t sufficient.
If Harrison can be honest, however, he doesn’t think either
Mundy or Clark deserved a flag.
”Ryan (Mundy), didn’t look like it hit helmet-to-helmet, but
the guy made like he was hurt and if it looks like the guy is hurt,
let’s throw a flag and worry about it later,” Harrison said.
The four-time Pro Bowler and former Defensive Player of the Year
added he’s not sure all teams are being treated equally, saying he
frequently sees players from different teams commit similar acts.
One player will get fined while the other avoids trouble
”I just think they need to display or execute the rules evenly
across the board,” Harrison said.
Cornerback Ike Taylor is a little more diplomatic, saying the
referees have ”a tough job” and that ”life ain’t fair” while
nose tackle Casey Hampton says it’s nearly impossible to avoid
”You try to hit a guy that’s moving full speed and see if
you’re not going to hit him in the head every now and then,”
Hampton said. ”It’s just part of this business, something you’ve
got to work on. Not sure how much more you can do.”
What the Steelers know they have to do, however, is be on their
best behavior. Colon, who switched from right tackle to left guard
this season, admits he didn’t make it difficult on the refs against
the Eagles. He allowed his four holding calls were all pretty
blatant and blamed his own poor technique and overaggression for
drawing the attention of the umpire.
”I’ve got to do a better job,” Colon said. ”If they’re
targeting me, I’ve got to give them a reason not to.”
Tomlin remains optimistic his team will fall back into the norm
and while players like Colon can work on their form, Tomlin will
never make his players apologize for playing hard.
”I’d rather say `whoa’ than `sic’em,”’ Tomlin said.
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