While the Pittsburgh Steelers offense may have put up an exceptional 459 yards on a haphazard Cleveland Browns defense that was shorthanded in the secondary and sold out against the run, the fact of the matter is that the actual damage was made all the more worse when you factor in penalties.
In all, the Browns were flagged 16 times during the game, with 12 being enforced. One penalty was declined, another was offset, and twice they committed penalties on the same play, in which only one was enforced.
Of the 12 enforced penalties, six of them occurred against the defense, not including a special teams penalty on a field goal attempt that put the Steelers’ offense back on the field.
We might as well take that one first. With three-plus minutes left to play in the second half, the Browns defense had held the Steelers to a field goal attempt after a sack on third-and-two put the ball back to the nine-yard line.
Armonty Bryant was flagged for illegally gaining leverage in his attempt to block the kick, which was made. On the next play, from the four-yard line, Ben Roethlisberger easily found Antonio Brown for the touchdown. Then he caught a second pass for a successful two-point conversion. Instead of a 9-4 game, it became 14-4, one dumb penalty directly costing them five points, but only five actual yards.
A full four defensive pass interference penalties were called against the Browns secondary, which hurt them bad. The first came earlier on that first touchdown drive, when Martavis Bryant was interfered with, resulting in the enforcement of a 35-yard mark-off.
Early in the third quarter, the Browns were flagged for pass interference on back-to-back plays, deep balls, both passes intended for Brown. The first infraction netted 39 yards, the second 38 yards. The six-play drive spanned 80 yards, 77 of which came via penalty, and ended in a field goal.
A fourth pass interference penalty on a third-and-two play on the Steelers’ last drive helped to seal the game. Though the end result was by then for all intents and purposes already well in hand, the automatic first down allowed them to run out the clock from the one-yard line, after the penalty was committed in the end zone.
It’s also worth noting that one of those pass interference penalties on a deep ball only came about because Roethlisberger noticed a defender jump offside, giving him an opportunity to take a shot down the field. He did the same on an earlier offside penalty, though that ball merely fell incomplete without penalty.
In total, the four defensive pass interference penalties drawn by the Steelers—three by Brown, one by Bryant—produced an absurd 141 yards, a number that does not factor into Pittsburgh’s total output for the game. Adding up total offensive yards to total penalty yards, Pittsburgh moved the ball nearly 600 yards in total. These are the hidden yards that tend to add up against undisciplined teams, and they certainly took advantage.