The Steelers were flagged 20 times on Sunday in their 35-3 win over the Raiders.
One of those penalties was for roughing the passer, another was for an illegal block above the waist and three more were for other personal fouls.
Safety Ryan Clark was called for what may have been a bogus helmet-to-helmet penalty. Linebacker James Harrison was the guilty party on the roughing-the-passer call, another questionable flag.
In a league that wants to clean up some of the hits its players give out every week, is it possible that it may be more than a coincidence that the Steelers are getting flagged the way they are?
For their entire history, the Steelers have hung their hats on hard-nosed, in-your-face defense. The Steel Curtain dominated the 70s, and in recent years, the Steelers have gotten back to that brash style of play — and they may be suffering because of it.
Clark and Harrison are two of the better, harder-hitting defensive players in the game, as are safety Troy Polamalu and linebacker LaMarr Woodley.
The Steelers try to send a message through their defense, a message that is usually heard loud and clear. The message the league seems to be sending, though, is that there is such thing as playing too hard, and the Steelers may be crossing the line.
“I’ll let you be the judge of that,” Woodley said after the game when asked whether or not the Steelers were being targeted by the league and its officials, according to ESPN.com. “If you just look across the board and what’s been happening this year, I will let you answer that one.”
Harrison was a little less diplomatic about things, obviously frustrated with the mounting fines he’s had to pay for his controversial hits, a number that is now at $100,000 for this season alone. According to Yahoo Sports, Harrison said that he felt Richard Seymour should be suspended for punching (or slapping, depending on who you ask) Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Seymour wasn’t suspended, but instead, he was given a $25,000 fine, a slap on the wrist compared to some of the fines Harrison has received. As Harrison pointed out, his fines have come for hits made during play, not after the whistle like Seymour’s.
The points are fair. The evidence, both in video and statistics, seems to be starting to back up those same points. But for now, the Steelers would probably be better suited to just stay quiet and continue to play the game the way they have been. Commenting on the situation won’t make things better. The extra attention could even make things worse.
Ironically, though, the Steelers might be best off heeding something that Harrison, of all people, said following Sunday’s game.
“We’re going to play together no matter what,” he said. “And when there are a lot of penalties that are going against you, that’s going to bring you closer together and you are going to play harder.”
For now, Harrison and the Steelers seem confident in their ability to overcome any bias toward them — real or imagined. Their devotion to “playing harder” is really the only thing they can do. Just as long as it’s not too hard.
Do you think the Steelers are being singled out and targeted by the NFL for their style of play, especially on the defensive side of the ball? Or are they just being paranoid? Share your thoughts below.