When Steelers' President Art Rooney II claimed that the Steelers were being unfairly targeted by officiating crews just two days earlier in the week, fans across the NFL likely rolled their eyes.
After several missed calls hurt the Steelers during their 13-10 victory in Baltimore on Sunday, it would appear as though they have a legitimate beef.
Whereas the Steelers — linebacker James Harrison in particular – have been flagged for numerous questionable offenses this season, the Steelers fell victim to two non-calls on Sunday. The first missed call came on Pittsburgh's first drive of the game, when Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata appeared to break Ben Roethlsiberger's nose on what should have been an illegal-hands-to-the-face penalty.
The second, far more egregious missed call came on a vicious hit on Steelers tight end Heath Miller by Ravens linebacker Jameel McClain, who hit a defenseless Miller, knocking him out of the game with a concussion.
Neither play drew a flag, but both — especially the Miller hit — were arguably far worse than any of the infractions Harrison has been penalized and fined for this season. Such missed calls give some credence to the Steelers' claims that they are being unfairly targeted by the NFL.
Following the NFL's Week 6 — a particularly violent week that saw DeSean Jackson of the Eagles, Dunta Robinson of the Falcons, Dallas Clark of the Colts, and Mohamed Massaquoi and Josh Cribbs of the Browns suffer head injuries — the league embarked on a campaign to limit player injuries by enforcing a harsh crackdown on helmet-to-helmet hits. Robinson, Harrison and Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather were fined heftily for their respective hits, and players across the league were warned that officials would be stricter than ever when it came to flagging players for using their heads while tackling.
While the NFL's sentiments were noble, their execution of the enforcement of the new rules has left much to be desired. Players are confused over what does and doesn't constitute a legal hit, and the league has been inconsistent at best in the way it has fined and flagged players.
Some players, like Harrison, have been fined large amounts for hits that were deemed legal during games, while others have not been fined for hits that have been ruled penalties on the field.
What has many fans and players even more confused is that players such as Richard Seymour, Andre Johnson and Cortland Finnegan, have been fined less money after-the-whistle fighting than those players who have been disciplined for making legitimate plays in games. Seymour, Johnson and Finnegan all received $25,000 fines for fighting, while Harrison has been fined a total of $125,000 for several separate hits this season.
The fining system has been so random that many marquee players, such as Hines Ward, Brian Urlacher and Charles Woodson, have vocally expressed their displeasure with the way the NFL has dealt with these issues. Ward went so far as to call the league "hypocritical," and said they merely want to make it seem like they're protecting players so they can expand the regular season schedule to 18 games in the near future.
While such a claim is unlikely, it can no longer be considered unreasonable for the Steelers to suggest that they have received the short-end of the officiating stick this season.
The NFL's initiative to improve player safety is a good thing, and is a movement that shouldn't be so quickly dismissed by fans or players. Sure, current players might be unhappy with some calls right now, but if the tradeoff is improved health for them in the future, their temporary frustration will be well worth it.
But what players and fans have every right to ask for is consistency in officiating, and that's something that's been sorely lacking so far this season.
Never was its absence more noticeable than on Sunday night.
Do you think the Steelers are being unfairly targeted by the NFL? Do you agree that officials have been inconsistent in calling helmet-to-helmet injuries this season? Share your thoughts below.