When it comes to evaluating the talents and abilities of a head coach, discipline is as significant as play calling. Without a disciplined team, the chances of advancing further through the long grind of an NFL season dwindles. Discipline has been an evaluation that Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has had to answer often this season. After a disappointing playoff exit amidst allegations that his team was looking too far ahead, Tomlin has had to face quit a few questions about locker room discipline. But while locker room discipline is impossible to measure, what can be measured is Tomlin’s on field discipline.
By looking at how often the Steelers drew a yellow flag from the officials and the significance of these calls, it is possible to measure how disciplined Tomlin’s Steelers played this season.
The Steelers averaged 6.2 penalties per game in 2017, ranking 13th in the NFL in this category. While the Steelers’ overall numbers lie middle of the pack, their discipline at home was a lot better than on the road. At home, the team averaged just 5.2 penalties per game, good for sixth in the league but on the road this number jumps to 7.2 penalties per game, the 11th most in the NFL.
While the Steelers were likely higher than they would like to be in penalty frequency, Tomlin and his team did do a great job in limiting the damage of these penalties. With an average of 54.2 penalty yards per game, the Steelers ranked in the NFL’s top ten for fewest penalty yardage. Once again, the Steelers saw a significant increase in penalty yardage away from home, averaging just 47.1 penalty yards at home while averaging 62.2 penalty yards away from Heinz Field. While you can suspect one team’s penalty yardage to be lower at home due to the benefit of home field advantage, the Steelers’ 15.1 increase in yardage on the road was the eighth highest difference in the NFL.
Tomlin’s Steelers did see an improvement from last season’s penalty yardage and frequency, as the team averaged 6.6 penalties per game and 63.2 penalty yards per game last season. While last season’s number of penalties is hardly a noticeable improvement from this season, the penalty yardage decreased by almost a full ten yards. The Steelers nine-yard improvement from last season to this season ranked as the eighth best improvement in the NFL over this span.
Though there is always room for improvement, Tomlin’s Steelers took a small step forward this season in their on-field discipline. With the team ranking anywhere from top ten to no worse than middle of the pack, the Steelers have done an adequate job at playing disciplined football this season. The only objective left for next season is to continue to take a step forward while looking for a solution to further close the gap on their home and away discipline.