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Are Steelers The New Raiders?

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There are certain things you can count on every season. The Bengals will find some way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. The Cowboys will get talked about incessantly on the Four Letter only to accomplish a whole lot of nothin’ by year’s end. And the Raiders will lead the league in penalties.

Well, the Raiders have some work to do in they want to catch the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Steelers are used to a sea of yellow when they look up into the stands, now they’re seeing a sea of yellow on ground level as well. A quarter of the way through the 2012 season and the Steelers are leading the NFL with 9.2 penalties per game. And they aren’t cheapies, either. Those penalties have cost Pittsburgh a whopping 346 yards.

That’s 15 yards more than they’ve rushed for the entire season.

Head coach Mike Tomlin held his weekly press conference yesterday. In between the usual half truths and baldfaced lies, the local reporters actually sacked up and questioned him about all the flags. Of course, instead of asking why his team is so reckless and undisciplined, in typical Pittsburgh fashion they asked “Why are the refs making so many bad calls against us?” I wonder if their pom poms ever get caught in their laptops.

To his credit, Tomlin refused to lay the blame on others. “I’m less concerned about judgments and interpretations and so forth. I’m more concerned about playing in the manner that the flags stay in the pocket.” said the always eloquent coach. “It’s my job to get them fixed. We will work on that this week,” he added. Of course we’ve long since learned when Tomlin says he’s going to work on something, it means he’s not going to work on it at all.

Some of the penalties were absolutely bogus. Mike Wallace got called for illegal formation on a play where it didn’t look like he was lined up illegally at all. And the Ryan Mundy personal foul for helmet-to-helmet looked awfully like a nice clean shoulder hit. And going back a few weeks, I don’t think we’ll ever learn what the hell the Lingerie Football refs were calling on that Ike Taylor pass interference penalty.

So, yeah, some of the calls were absolutely ridiculous. A lot of them weren’t. Willie Colon evidently decided to dress as Chris Kemoeatu for Halloween and he’s getting a three week head start by impersonating his play on the field. Colon has been the most frequent offender, getting nabbed for eight times this season (three times on Sunday, plus another one which was declined). The starting corners, Ike and Keenan Lewis, have three pass interferences each.

What’s Tomlin going to do? Tell Colon not to hold? Teach Lewis and Ike how not to get beat like drums down the field? They are what they are. You can’t teach somebody not to suck.

What you can teach is proper tackling technique. One of the Eagles two TDs came on a drive aided by two personal fouls. As I said, the Mundy play looked iffy but when you spend your first four years in the league spearing people, you’re not getting the benefit of the doubt. Ryan Clark‘s hit was a clear PI and was rightly penalized. Clark is a habitual offender who not only refuses to apologize for his reckless play but actually told the media he doesn’t care if he gets fined or flagged, he’s going to play like he wants to play. Way to be a team player, Ryan.

That sort of stuff is what Tomlin should step in and curtail. When James Harrison was getting flagged every time looked menacingly at a QB, Tomlin sat him and told him to clean up his technique. Coach T needs to do that with everybody on defense so they stop giving teams these costly penalties. What’s more, he just needs to rein in the team overall. Penalties are going to happen but you can eliminate the stupid mental errors (like running out of bounds on kickoffs or false starts) by instilling discipline.

Players coach Mike Tomlin has been anything but a strict disciplinarian in his time here. As long as he prefers being liked over being respected, we’ll continue to see more laundry on the ground than after a tornado hits Chinatown. We can hope that it won’t eventually come back to bite the Steelers. Although I think we all know that it will.