A worrying trend occurring across the NFL is an increase in penalties. So far this season (as of the end of week 10) there have been 2,065 accepted penalties for a collective loss of 17,825 yards. The Oakland Raiders, this season, set the NFL record for most penalties in a game back in week 8 with 23 in their overtime matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
But how do the Pittsburgh Steelers compare across the league?
Pittsburgh ranks 18th overall in fewest penalty yards, with 579 yards lost on 59 penalties. Only the Baltimore Ravens have had more yards against them from penalties in the AFC North (with 72 penalties for a loss of 593 yards).
At the top end of these rankings is (predictably) Oakland with 94 penalties for a collective loss of 800 yards. Following them is the Jacksonville Jaguars with 74 penalties for a loss of 733 yards. The next ten on this least are all below 700 yards lost, but above 600. When taking the outliers of Oakland and Jacksonville out of this comparison, the Pittsburgh Steelers in terms of yards lost via penalties are closer to the top (the Miami Dolphins, with 685 yards lost to penalties) than they are the bottom (the San Francisco 49ers, with 422). From this, it's clear that the Steelers, like a lot of other teams, have a problem with racking up penalties.
The two standout games, when looking at penalties given up by Pittsburgh, are the week five matchup against the New York Jets and the week nine matchup against Baltimore. The matchup against the Jets shows that Pittsburgh can give up next to nothing on penalties - with one penalty for ten yards for offensive holding on Alejandro Villanueva. However, on the other of the spectrum is the Baltimore game, where Pittsburgh gave up 13 penalties for a loss of 99 yards.
I won't go into the laundry list of penalties for this game, but there were three false starts and two counts of Pittsburgh players grabbing facemasks. Between these five penalties, Pittsburgh lost 45 yards, nearly half of all of the yards it lost. The split of these penalties is five on offence, three on defense and four (four!? that's nearly half of the penalties that Pittsburgh has had on special teams this season) on special teams. This shows a lack of discipline by the Steelers, because the other games on the list are all comparatively low. It wouldn't be too much of a stretch that the reason that this game has so many more penalties than the other games Pittsburgh has played this season could be because it was Baltimore - Pittsburgh's biggest rival who they have lost to over the last few matchups.
When looking at the Steelers' penalties, the split goes to 28 penalties on offense, 21 on defense and 10 on special teams. However, defense has actually accrued more yards lost from penalties with 278 as opposed to the 225 on offence. When looking by position, this disparity continues. The offensive line and defensive backs are joint first for most penalties - both with 16. However, defensive backs have cost nearly double the yards what the O-line have, with the DBs costing 226 yards (not too far off of half of all the penalty yards Pittsburgh has given up) to the O-lines 115 yards. This shows that the O-line, although making too many penalties, are only costing a couple yards at a time where as the inexperience and possibly the lack of discipline from the defensive backs have given far more dangerous losses.
This is carried on when looking at what type of penalty that the Steelers are giving up. The most common penalty that Pittsburgh is guilty is false starts. There have been 12 counts of false start by the Steelers costing 60 yards. Following this is holding, with 10 counts, costing 100 yards. Joint third, both with counts of five, are unnecessary roughness and defensive pass interference. Unnecessary roughness has cost the team 75 yards. However, defensive pass interference has cost the team 93 yards. This is almost 20 yards per penalty, and therefore a big problem.
So which players are actually causing these penalties?
In terms of individuals who have cost the team the most yards the top three are all defensive backs. Ross Cockrell is the main offender, costing the team 81 yards on just three penalties (not counting two declined penalties). These five penalties were for three counts of pass interference, one for holding and one for unnecessary roughness. This is consistent with what I've said already - defensive backs are undisciplined. Next is Artie Burns who has six penalties (and one declined penalty) costing 51 yards. These seven penalties are two counts of pass interference, one unnecessary roughness, one illegal contact, one illegal block above the waist, an offside and one holding. This, although not acceptable, is to be somewhat expected being as he is a rookie and has been thrust into a starting position - of course he is going to make mistakes because he will be less familiar and possibly less disciplined to an NFL standard as other players on the roster. Finally, third on the list is Mike Mitchell. He has cost the team 40 yards on three penalties with two unnecessary roughness counts and one illegal block above the waist. This again demonstrates the lack of discipline by defensive back on the Steelers roster - as well as confirming the problem of the secondary for the Steelers in yet another way.
The next three players are all offensive players, who all cost the team 35 yards each. Alejandro Villanueva has given up five penalties, as well as one declined penalty, for three false starts, 2 counts of holding and one illegal formation. Another offensive lineman (showing that problems with the O-line) that is here is David DeCastro, who has five penalties (and two declined) with four counts of holding and three false starts. The pattern here is that the O-line are consistently giving up yards for holding and false starts, which again is not acceptable but understandable - these are the types of penalties that linemen are going to accrue, being as there job is to quickly block the defensive line, so occasionally holding that player or being a little jumpy isn't unexpected. The final player is a team favorite - Antonio Brown. Brown has three penalties against him, with two unsportsmanlike conduct and one illegal formation. I can't exactly call Brown undisciplined, he is the best receiver in the league after all and being able to run routes and stay consistent in double and sometimes triple coverage in the NFL takes discipline. However, his flamboyance in celebrating has cost the team 30 yards. I understand how unreasonable being penalized for celebrating is, however they are the rules and so he should stick to them.
All in all, the Steelers are by far not the worst offender in breaking the NFL's rules on the pitch- that title goes to the Oakland Raiders. However, there is a trend of penalties becoming a bigger part of the game - this is shown by the last time there was a game where neither team didn't have a penalty was in 1940 (Pittsburgh @ Philadelphia). I understand that most of these penalties are for safety or fairness, but there becomes a time when the moniker of the "No-Fun League" might not be inapplicable.
In terms of the Steelers, defensive backs and offensive line seem to be the main perpetrators for penalties - both racking up 16. However, in terms of yards lost defensive backs are the biggest problem. This seems to be down to inexperience and a lack of discipline, but it could be down to many other issues. Either way, these are the two position groups that require work for the team to move forward from this. After all, a penalty costs the team precious yards and can be the difference between a third and one and a third and sixteen.