For all of the complaining and handwringing the Pittsburgh Steelers and their fan base might be going through this weekend as a result of some of the seemingly unjustified flags thrown their way, the message is simple: adapt or die.
It doesn’t matter if you’re “old school”, whether you’re a player or a fan. The new rules of hitting for defenseless players are the new rules, and they’re not changing. Adapt to them or you’ll only be hurting yourself, or your team.
The Steelers’ game against the Baltimore Ravens was a perfect example of this. Both strong safety Troy Polamalu and free safety Mike Mitchell were penalized for unnecessary roughness on big hits to defenseless receivers that resulted in seemingly incidental contact with the aforementioned players’ helmet.
That will be flagged every single time.
Or at least every single time it’s caught on the field. The officials somehow missed a similar hit on wide receiver Antonio Brown earlier in the game that caused him to leave the field and take a battery of tests as part of the concussion protocol that the new defenseless receiver rules would hope to make obsolete.
Again, whether player or fan, it simply doesn’t matter a bit whether or not you like it, because it’s not changing. In fact, the definition of a defenseless player, and the protections for those players, will likely only expand in the future.
And since it’s not changing, players like Mitchell and Polamalu must do a better job of avoiding such hits. Your head/neck/shoulder area cannot come into contact with the head/neck/shoulder area of a defenseless player, period.
Yes, there are times when it’s unavoidable and clearly inadvertent and unintentional. Sometimes, perhaps even often, it’s even the receiver’s fault, or the receiver at least exacerbates the collision by changing the strike zone. It will happen to every team, and they’ll all just have to deal with it.
But the fact of the matter is that the Steelers are just playing far too undisciplined through the first two games of the season, and it’s hurting them on the field. Both of the Ravens’ touchdown drives were greatly aided by Pittsburgh’s self-inflicted wounds.
On the Ravens’ first touchdown drive, 38 of their 85 yards came via penalty. Both of the unnecessary roughness penalties occurred on the second touchdown drive. All of their other scoring drives ended in field goals.
In the season opener, the Steelers were penalized 11 times for 96 yards. They added another nine penalties for 75 yards two nights ago, bringing their year-to-date total to 20 penalties for 171 yards.
How many games can you expect to win when you spot your opponent an average of 85 extra yards?
In the opener, there was a holding call that took a touchdown off the board from the four-yard line. The drive ended in a field goal.
Facemask penalties in both games turned modest gains into explosive plays. They’ve granted first downs on incompletions on third down. This is quite simply losing football, and it needs to be curtailed soon.