Are the officials targeting the Steelers?

I’ve written hundreds of posts about the Steelers over the years and I usually have a pretty good system down. I’ll get an idea for a post and start writing it in my head a few hours before I actually sit down at the computer. I know that sounds weird, but if you’ve ever written a blog or long paper or article you can probably understand. 

This post was a little different though. I’ve been writing this one in my head for a few weeks and it keeps changing every time. Originally, I was going to title it “The NFL is targeting the Steelers” and then a few days later it was “The NFL is NOT targeting the Steelers.” I’ve thought a lot about the issue and I still don’t really know what to believe, but I’m going to try to make some sense of all of these penalties after the jump. 



Sometime fairly early in grade school I promised myself I’d never blame the refs for anything in sports. There were a couple bad umpires in  my Little League that would always call strikes several feet off the outside of the plate. No way I could ever reach those pitches. Naturally, I blamed it on the ump every time I struck out. I’m not sure if it was my coach or my dad, but somebody eventually talked some sense into me and taught me to make the most out of the other pitches. Make the most out of running the bases and of fielding my position well. The umps would make mistakes, but there were so many other opportunities to make plays and win the game. Only losers blame the officials. I still believe that. 

As Steeler fans, we’ve seen how annoying it is when opposing fans don’t credit the Steelers for winning a game but instead choose to ‘congratulate’ the officials for the win. The most famous case of this is Super Bowl XL against Seattle. I know a lot of Seahawks fans and they are good people, but I’ve lost a ton of respect for that whole organization just because they’ve never stopped whining about a few questionable calls in that game. What they remember most about that Super Bowl is a push off in the endzone. A poor illegal block call. A ticky-tack flag for holding. What they should remember is Willie Parker’s record-breaking touchdown run or Antwaan Randle-El’s reverse pass to Hines Ward or even Ike Taylor’s clutch interception of Matt Hassleback. Regardless of whether or not the officiating was ‘fair’ in that game, one team made big plays and the other team did not. The Steelers won that football game by making plays. The Seattle fans can handpick four or five plays to gripe about, but what about the rest of the game? Their team got outplayed and it was far more convenient to just blame the officiating. 

Now the present: the Pittsburgh Steelers, the team that always gets all the calls, have been flagged 30 times over the past three games for an ungodly amount of yardage. A bulk of those penalties have been of the personal foul variety, which is more of a judgement call then most penalties. James Harrison seems to get flagged every time he hits a QB who has thrown the ball. Harrison and others have been fined almost weekly by the league. Is the NFL now targeting the Steelers? 

If they are, there not doing a particularly good job of it. Nine (!!!) NFL teams have had more penalties levied against them this year, including the 9-2 Jets and 7-4 Eagles. And while the Steelers have averaged 10 penalties a game against them over the last three games, that isn’t too far at all of the 9.6 penalties per game that Detroit has been averaging over the course of the entire season. 

While the personal foul calls are sometimes dumbfounding, a lot of the penalties against the Steelers are correctable. A very shaky and banged up offensive line has resulted in a ton of holding and false start penalties over the past few games. Eliminating a couple of those each week puts the Steelers near the least penalized teams in the entire league. I don’t agree with how frequently the NFL is calling roughing the passer these days, but if you’ve watched any non-Steeler games you’ll see that it isn’t just Pittsburgh fans complaining about those type of calls. Like it or not, the NFL is changing the way it officiates the game and teams that pressure the quarterback frequently are going to have to deal with it. Nobody loves blitzing as much as the Steelers so it is obvious that there is going to be a period of adjustment here. 

I don’t think the Little League umpires were targeting me years ago. I don’t think the NFL was targeting the Seahawks in 2005 and I don’t think it is happening to the Steelers now. The flags will always be a unknown variable each Sunday, but what is going to matter the most is who makes the most plays on the other 90 percent of the downs. The Steelers made them two weeks ago against Oakland and they (barely) made enough of them yesterday at Buffalo. When the team loses their next game, it won’t be because of the officials and there is no memorandum out there to blackball the Pittsburgh Steelers.