All in all, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ cornerbacks got off to a reasonably good start last night before their hands-on approach to the position began drawing the ire of Ed Hochuli, whom the clock operator learned is not somebody you want to get angry.
As the Philadelphia Eagles worked their way down the field on their opening drive, Ike Taylor climbed over the back of wide receiver Riley Cooper on third down to knock the ball out of his hands, ending the initial threat.
On Philadelphia’s next drive, a defensive holding call on William Gay on third down kept the drive alive, but Cortez Allen made a nice diving pass deflection down the field on the following play, and it seemed all was well.
But all was not well. In fact, it was just peak of the hill that the defense spent the rest of the game tumbling down.
Taylor was flagged for pass interference early on the Eagles’ third drive, but Cooper made the third-down reception over him anyway, so the penalty was declined.
Allen was flagged for illegal contact later on the drive, but it too was declined because the play was made. But he was flagged again three plays later on first and goal, which this time was accepted, moving the ball to the two-yard line.
Later in the third quarter, a defensive holding call on Gay negated a Steelers sack on third and four. The Eagles’ second-team offense scored a touchdown two plays later.
Five minutes into the fourth quarter, both Brice McCain and Isaiah Green were penalized for defensive holding on the same play. It was, of course, second and 22 on an incomplete pass that was nearly intercepted.
This was a performance following a victory over the Bills that nonetheless was also subject to several illegal contact penalties from the Steelers’ secondary. It seems a distant memory now that the Steelers defensive backs played penalty-free against the Giants in the preseason opener.
Of course, the new point of emphasis on illegal contact between receivers and defenders goes both ways—not just for both teams, but for both sides of the ball. The Eagles’ receivers were flagged twice for illegal contact against the Steelers.
But after last night, it’s becoming clear that the Steelers will have just as hard a time as anybody adjusting to covering without fouling, even if NFL VP of Officiating Dean Blandino recently said that he expects penalties to be reduced when the regular season arrives.
Will the Steelers’ cornerbacks be able to make the adjustment in time for the regular season, which is just two weeks away?