The Pittsburgh Steelers were a walking disaster at the start of the 2018 season in terms of producing unforced errors in the form of penalties, whether that was offense, defense, or especially special teams. They were able to clean things up over the course of the season, admittedly, and on a play-by-play basis, have been cleaner at the start of the 2019 season.
That does not mean, however, that their season to date hasn’t been significantly impacted by penalty, because indeed, it has been. Notwithstanding the blowout against the New England Patriots in the season opener, the Steelers have had some big penalties that helped shape the final score in each of the past two games, and perhaps the end result as well.
Starting this past Sunday, Pittsburgh looked to have stalled the San Francisco 49ers offense from getting in the end zone with just two minutes left to play, making a stop on third and 11 from inside the 20. That would have forced them to kick a field goal, which would have tied the game.
But Mark Barron was flagged for interfering with George Kittle on the play, which gave the 49ers an automatic first down, and they scored a touchdown a couple of plays later, going up 24-20 with just 1:15 left to play.
The week before that, against the Seattle Seahawks—a game that they lost 26-24—the defense against stopped the Seahawks from scoring and forcing them to attempt a field goal. They did attempt one, and make it. however, Daniel McCullers was flagged for falling on the long snapper, which gave them a first down, and they quickly capitalized on it by scoring a touchdown, creating a four-point swing.
“Obviously, the penalty element of play is significant”, head coach Mike Tomlin said of these issues during his pre-game press conference yesterday. “We haven’t been penalized a large number of times thus far this year, but some of the penalties have been significant in terms of the outcome of football games. So we’re working hard in that area”.
On the 49ers play earlier this week, he said of the Barron penalty that “it’s pretty frustrating”, bringing up the Seattle penalty as well. Though he didn’t mention it, there was also the defensive pass interference penalty in that game that was added via coaches challenge that played a role in the outcome of that one as well.