I don’t think anybody would argue at this point that there are at least components of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster that are in a state of transition, even if one wants to make the argument that the team never fully entered a transitional phase.
After all, the team only played one game in recent years during which they were not in playoff contention, and have not posted a losing record in over a decade. If this is Pittsburgh’s style of transition, then certainly the rest of the league should be envious.
Of course, it’s also true that the Steelers underwent quite a bit of development simply during the course of last season, during which they turned an 8-8 team into a division winner with a record of 11-5, even if they lost in the opening round of the playoffs.
One area in which I believe that we saw growth was in overall team discipline, and by this I mean specifically the number and qualities of penalties that the Steelers were either flagged for or were able to induce from their opponents.
No doubt, there were, and always will be, notable penalties late in the season. Two late season holding calls negated a long run by Josh Harris and a touchdown reception for Dri Archer, just off the top of my head, and neither penalty may have ultimately had an impact on the end result of the play.
So certainly keeping ahead of things on the penalty front will always be a matter of diligence, but while there still must be improvement, I do think that the team overall progressed from the early stages of the 2014 season.
Recall, for instance, the four penalties on special teams alone on opening day. Through the first five games of the season, the Steelers accumulated 14 penalties just on the special teams units, which flagged some of their key players repeatedly.
But they had just eight penalties on special teams for the remainder of the regular season, drawing only one penalty during their 4-0 December run that saw them regain their AFC North crown for the first time since 2010.
But of course, their other units were equally undisciplined. The defense was flagged 23 times in four games to start the season, with many of them coming in the secondary. With the exception of the penultimate game of the regular season, however, that number came to a screeching halt. They drew two penalties or less on defense in six of their last seven games.
The offense, too, saw a similar drop-off in disciplinary measures. They were flagged three times or less in 11 of their final 12 games after high numbers through the first month of the season.
It must be noted, however, that there is a bit of a trend of the Steelers presenting more undisciplined play during the early portions of the season in recent years. While the team has a young, growing roster, it will be important to keep them in line and prevent them from taking themselves out of the game via penalties. As mentioned earlier, even as the total number of penalties declined over the course of the season, there were key penalties that helped shape key moments of those games.