Steelers hoping to slow record penalty pace

Mike Tomlin might be a perfectionist, but he’s a realist

too.

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

time.

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

both categories.

”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

season.”

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

three years.

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

fourth-quarter comeback.

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

altogether.

”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

certain collisions.

”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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