While the Pittsburgh Steelers offense was largely successful moving the ball between the 20s, as they long have been through the length of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s career, the team once again struggled inside the red zone, or within opponent territory in general.
And one of the more understated, but significant, problems that the offense faced during the season opener was the offensive line’s inability to play penalty-free. The Steelers were flagged five times on the offensive side of the ball, and all of them came at the expense of an offensive lineman.
Worryingly, three of them came against starting left tackle Kelvin Beachum, who also had some issues with penalties throughout his career, leading the offensive line, and the offense as a whole, with seven penalties on the season a year ago.
Also flagged once each were starting right tackle Marcus Gilbert and backup center Cody Wallace, who is, of course, starting in place of the injured Maurkice Pouncey. In all, the five penalties set the offense back 40 yards, but two in particular stuck out as damaging.
On the opening drive of the game, the Steelers were highly successful moving the ball down the field on a series that looked destined to end up crossing the goal line. In five straight plays, the offense stacked positive plays, totaling 56 yards to get down to the 24-yard line.
After a questionable gadget play resulted in an eight-yard loss, however, Gilbert was flagged on the following play for a holding penalty, which set the offense up with a second down and 28 situation. It was all the offense could do at that point to muster up a 44-yard field goal attempt that ended wide right.
Late in the game, toward the start of the fourth quarter, the Steelers trailed 21-11, but were set up on the one-yard line. After gaining about a foot on second and one, the Patriots defensive line was able to elicit a false start out of Beachum along the left side to turn a third and goal from the one-foot line to a third and five.
Interestingly, none of Beachum’s penalties came on holds. Aside from the false start, he was also flagged for an illegal formation penalty, and, later, for illegal use of hands. Wallace’s penalty was a hold, working on the second level against a linebacker that negated a nine-yard run, but that did not stall the drive.
While this is a Steelers team that is facing a number of issues that need to be addressed going forward, a good place to start is always to be sure that you are not beating yourself, and playing penalty-free football is a fundamental part of doing just that.
The fact that the offensive line drew five penalties on the day would be concerning, but the truth is that the majority of them were not egregious, or at least fixable. Beachum’s false start was the most unfortunate, but it was also a teachable moment. Neither hold was significant, either. The line, overall, played well. It’s just a matter of being more disciplined going forward.