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Labriola on JuJu, officials, ripping AB

Posted Oct 6, 2017

It very well could turn out to be a muffed punt that opened the door for the slot receiver job.

Ready or not, here it comes:

* Eli Rogers was inactive for the game against the Ravens in Baltimore, and when Mike Tomlin explained the move it sounded as though the decision had more to do with Rogers as a punt returner than Rogers as a slot receiver.

* “He put the ball on the ground the other week in the punt return game,” said Tomlin. “That’s one of his chief roles. That’s one of the chief reasons why he’s a participant. I wanted to give him a week off from that and re-establish some good fundamentals in that area, and that provided an opportunity for Justin Hunter.”

* When it came to the game against the Ravens, it wasn’t so much that Justin Hunter took advantage of the opportunity created by Rogers’ inactivity so much as it was JuJu Smith-Schuster who took advantage to make a move on the slot receiver job.

* After making three catches for 47 yards and an 11-yard touchdown that gave the Steelers a 19-0 halftime lead in Baltimore, Smith-Schuster now has eight receptions for 102 yards and two touchdowns through the first four games of his rookie season. Rogers has only six catches for 54 yards, and he cannot match Smith-Schuster’s size, blocking ability, or the physical nature the rookie brings on every snap he’s on the field.

* As the youngest player in the NFL, Smith-Schuster seems to be just scratching the surface of what he can become as an NFL player, and it’s possible Eli Rogers opened a door for him to be the No. 1 slot receiver by muffing that punt in Chicago.

* Rick Gosselin has covered the NFL for 44 years, including stints reporting on the Lions, Giants, Chiefs, and Cowboys. He has been a Pro Football Hall of Fame voter since the 1980s and won the Dick McCann Award in 2004 for “long and distinguished reporting on professional football.” In other words, he knows what he’s talking about, and he wrote a recent story for talkoffamenetwork.com in which he listed the biggest disappointments to this point of the 2017 NFL season.

* Gosselin wrote: “NFL officiating. Through 63 games, NFL officials are throwing their yellow flags at a record pace, calling an average of 14.1 penalties for 119.1 yards per game. The Kansas City Chiefs have managed to remain the NFL’s only unbeaten team despite the best efforts by the officials. The Chiefs have been penalized a league-high 316 yards on 36 penalties. There have already been 26 games where teams were penalized at least 10 times. The leader in the clubhouse is the crew of Tony Corrente, which has already thrown 67 flags and walked off 567 yards. That’s almost six football fields of penalties, folks – and that’s just four weeks of work by this crew. The less we see of these officials the better – and we’ve seen way too much of them already this season.”

* Just in case there are readers out there who believe I’m the only one critical of officiating in the NFL.

* In the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft, the Baltimore Ravens used the No. 17 overall pick on Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley, two picks after the Steelers used the No. 15 overall pick on Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier. Both were inside linebackers from big-time college programs, and both went to AFC North teams, and the teams that drafted them just happen to hate each other.

* Mosley experienced success more quickly than Shazier, and when he was voted to the Pro Bowl as a rookie the whining from a faction of Steelers fans increased in volume. They were convinced that Kevin Colbert and Tomlin had picked the wrong inside linebacker, and what was worse the right inside linebacker would torture them for the next decade as a member of the Ravens.

* Well, it’s 2017 now, and is there anybody out there who still thinks the Steelers picked the wrong inside linebacker?

* “Good teams deal with distractions. There’s a certain amount of fanfare that comes with being good. It’s our desire to be good. We embrace the distractions that come along with it, and hopefully the lessons that we learn along our journey prepare us to be good. Hopefully we learn something from this past week’s experiences in terms of being able to be singularly focused in the midst of a potential storm that’s outside of our control. I don’t view those things as a negative. Was it a distraction? I’m sure it was in a lot of ways, but we still have a job to do, and I hope we learn from it because if we’re as good as we desire to be, there are going to be distractions moving forward. That’s just the nature of this thing. It’s professional football.”

* That was Mike Tomlin speaking at one of his weekly news conferences, and the distraction to which he was referring in that instance was the players’ decision to remain in the tunnel at Soldier Field for the playing of the national anthem. Tomlin just as easily could’ve uttered the same sentiment this week regarding the kerfuffle following Antonio Brown being mean to an empty Gatorade cooler on the sideline in Baltimore.

* For anyone who’s spent the last week on Mars, Brown’s childish response to not getting the football on a play where he ended up being wide open deep down the middle began with some on-field histrionics before he headed to the sideline and committed aggravated battery on the aforementioned cooler.

* It was the kind of tone deaf act to be expected from someone who thought it was a fine idea to Facebook Live the postgame locker room in the immediate aftermath of an AFC Divisional Round victory over the Chiefs in Kansas City last season, and Brown was the author of that, too. Brown was wrong to behave as he did in the visitor’s locker room in Kansas City, and he was wrong to behave as he did on the field and on the sideline in Baltimore.

* Brown’s head coach had something to say about it. Brown’s quarterback had something to say about it. And then a former teammate had something to say about it on radio, and if the timing of what he had to say would be compared to a football play, the former teammate would’ve deserved to be flagged for a late hit.

* That former teammate won’t be named here and what he said won’t be chronicled here, because what that former teammate was looking for above all else was to get his name out there, to improve his brand as a commentator, to gain a reputation as someone who isn’t afraid to rip a guy on his former team. In other words, he was interested primarily in himself, his motives were self-serving, the exact thing for which he was criticizing Antonio Brown.

* In December 2009, the aforementioned former teammate referred to the Pittsburgh media covering the Steelers as “turds” for writing negative things, and now, he himself is a member of the media who’s saying negative things about a former teammate.

* Seems to me that puts him in the same bowl as everyone else.

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