The struggling Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense has little margin for error. Not with turnovers, not with drops, and certainly not with penalties. There were too many of all of that in Week 3’s loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, but Mike Tomlin focused on the impact penalties had in the team’s second loss of the season.
Tomlin cited penalties as one reason why the Steelers’ run game has been among the worst in the league.
“I think we had two 10-plus-yard runs in the first ten snaps of the game that were called back due to holding calls,” Tomlin said during his Tuesday press conference. “And they legitimate holding calls. I don’t know if they aided in the ball going the 10 plus yards that it went but they were legitimate holding calls.”
The first play Tomlin’s referring to came on Pittsburgh’s second drive, a 1st and 10 run that netted ten yards by Harris that was called back on a Kendrick Green holding call. Though it could be fair to say had the DT not been held, he may have been able to impact the play.
The second came in the second quarter, a long run by Harris negated by a Kevin Dotson hold. That set up 1st and 17, though Harris came back to bust off a 20-yard run the very next play to get the Steelers out of a jam. There was even an OPI called on Chase Claypool that wiped out a Harris 12-yard reception that would’ve set up third and manageable.
Penalties were the theme of the day, especially in the first half. All five of the Steelers’ starting offensive linemen were flagged at least once and it routinely backed up this gunked up offense. They faced situations like 2nd and 11 instead of 2nd and 5. 1st and 20 instead of a fresh set of downs. 2nd and 23 instead of 3rd and 5. 3rd and 13 instead of 3rd and 8.
All situations where the odds of converting and keeping the drive alive dramatically drop. Even the five-yard difference between 3rd and 8 and 3rd and 13 is substantial. Dating back to last year, the median conversion rate on 3rd and 8 is 33.3%. On 3rd and 13, that number falls to 20%.
If this offense has any chance to get on track, it has to stay on schedule. Which means avoiding yellow flags.
“We’re capable of winning the line of scrimmage and having explosion runs at the beginning of the game. We’ve got to play cleaner. If we do it, we’ve got a better taste in our mouth and it sets the trajectory that allows us to go on and continue to work our plan in the way in which we intended. But when you’re highly penalized and you’re not gaining offensive rhythm or occupying possession of the football due to those things, then your personality is in question.”