Steelers penalty phase
By Scott Brown
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
If the Steelers are to win a crucial AFC North game Sunday night in Baltimore, they need to cut down on the penalties that plagued them in a 17-14 loss to the Ravens earlier this season.
The Steelers were flagged 11 times for 88 yards Oct. 3. Two of those penalties came when they were clinging to a four-point lead and trying to run out the clock in the shadow of their own end zone.
That game proved to be an aberration through much of the first half of the season.
In their first seven games, the Steelers averaged seven penalties for a little less than 38 yards.
But penalties have become a major problem with the Steelers approaching a game they have to win to avoid falling behind the Ravens in the standings.
In their past four games, they are averaging 9.3 penalties for 114 yards.
And the Steelers weren't just lucky to beat the Bills on Sunday because of a dropped touchdown pass in overtime.
The Steelers sabotaged themselves with penalties before Steve Johnson flubbed a perfectly thrown pass.
Consider that three holding calls on left guard Chris Kemoeatu wiped out a 42-yard run by Rashard Mendenhall and receptions of 27 and 17 yards by Hines Ward and Emmanuel Sanders, respectively.
The Steelers were unable to run out the clock after Troy Polamalu made a diving -- and what appeared to be game-saving -- interception because a Kemoeatu holding penalty negated Sanders' 17-yard reception on third down.
"I knew after last week's game (against the Raiders) the refs were going to be a little more on top of it and strict," Kemoeatu said. "They've been watching us a lot more. We're just trying to keep guys off of (quarterback) Ben (Roethlisberger), I guess."
"We killed ourselves with penalties," Roethlisberger lamented after the Steelers overcame themselves and the Bills in overtime. "It's a shame."
Such mistakes will be devastating to the Steelers' goal of winning a third AFC North title in four years if they don't make the necessary corrections.
The Ravens' final four games are against teams with losing records. And they get the only one with a winning record, New Orleans, at home.
Because the Steelers can't depend on getting help in the final quarter of the season, they have to beat the Ravens on Sunday to balance out the loss they took at the hands of their bitter rivals in early October.
An offensive line that got flagged for holding six times against the Bills -- one of those penalties was declined -- has to figure out a way to contain Baltimore's Haloti Ngata, perhaps the most disruptive defensive lineman in the NFL.
And to do it legally.
Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward, on whether Sunday's game at Baltimore is a de facto AFC North title game with both teams tied for first with 8-3 record:
"It's a big game, but it's not going to make or break (either team). Both teams still have an opportunity to get into the playoffs. We have our quarterback back, and usually we have a lot of success when Ben (Roethlisberger) starts at quarterback in Baltimore."
Left tackle Jonathan Scott, on Roethlisberger playing with a foot sprain in the Steelers' 19-16 overtime win over the Bills:
"He's out there fighting. Everyone is bleeding, scuffed up. I can really appreciate that from a quarterback. So we're just going to get him healthy for next week against Baltimore."
Outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley, on holding the Steelers' record for most sacks (35.5) by a player in his first four seasons:
"I didn't even realize that. It's a great accomplishment to be on this team and playing with these great players. When I'm done playing football, I want to be known as one of the great linebackers here in Pittsburgh and one of the greatest linebackers in the NFL. To be up there with those other ones is definitely great -- right now."
3 players to watch
Joe Flacco, QB: Came of age in rallying Ravens to a 17-14 win at Heinz Field two months ago. Threw for 256 yards, including a 21-yard touchdown to T.J. Houshmandzadeh with 36 seconds left in the game.
Ed Reed, S: Reed, who didn't play last time against the Steelers while recovering from offseason hip surgery, has four interceptions in five games since his return.
Lawrence Timmons, LB: The best linebacker on the field the last time the AFC North rivals met, Timmons racked up 13 tackles and recovered a fumble in the Steelers' loss.
By the numbers
0 -- Losses the Steelers have in the seven games they have led this season at halftime
2.6 -- Yards per carry the Steelers allowed in their 17-14 loss to the Ravens on Oct. 3
3 -- Consecutive seasons in which Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison has recorded at least 10 sacks, the first player in team history to accomplish that feat
8 -- Dropped passes by the Ravens going into Sunday's game against the Buccaneers, the fewest in the NFL
12 -- Consecutive field goals Steelers kicker Shaun Suisham has made between 40 and 49 yards
3 questions with Steelers rookie linebacker Stevenson Sylvester, who has been a special teams standout:
Why have you played well on special teams? Is it, as is often said, a case of want-to?
"I can't be out there on defense right now, so I've got to do everything I can to be out there in some way and help this team win a championship. I'm all about winning, and that's why I'm go glad I came to the Pittsburgh Steelers. They're known for winning, and when they're losing they're not accustomed to it."
Playing for a non-BCS school (Utah) that went undefeated in 2008 but didn't win the national championship, do you think college football needs a playoff at the Division I-A level?
"Most definitely. It may be a money thing, but it would be a lot more exciting for fans, alumni. I don't know how they would plan that out, but it would be nice."
What has surprised you most about the NFL?
"Just playing against people I've watched all of these years and finally being on that same level as them. The thing that's surprising to me is how much fun we have during the season. People talk about the rookie lows, and I guess we're sort of going through that but I don't really feel it now. I'm just having fun, trying to make it to the Super Bowl."
Scott Brown can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org