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5 for Friday: Ejections for roughing the passer? Nah

The NFL is considering making ejections part of the punishment for roughing the passer and hits on defenseless player penalties in 2023.

This comes from Executive Vice President of Football Operations for the NFL Troy Vincent at the owners meetings that took place this week in Irving, Texas.

Vincent said the ejections were among the discussions for making roughing the passer and some other a reviewable play.

"The officials, I must say, have been pretty consistent with and very accurate when making that call," Vincent told reporters. "But they're human."

Yeah, no kidding. Very human.

Now, the Steelers are one of just five teams this season who have not been penalized for roughing the passer, so this in no way reflects any sour grapes or anything of the sort when it comes to them. But let's be honest, there's seemingly at least one bad roughing the passer call each week.

Correcting that would be admirable. Correcting bad unnecessary roughness calls – calling something a hit to the head and neck area that isn't a hit to the head and neck area – isn't a bad thing either.

But ejections? Nope, don't think for a moment players will be on board for that.

"Ejections are for college" said Steelers defensive lineman and NFLPA player representative Cam Heyward. "There's too much gray area in our league. Things happen. I think it would be unfortunate."

If you've watched a college football game in the past few seasons, the targeting call at that level of the game has made it nearly unwatchable. Every time there is a hard hit, the officials immediately go spend five minutes under the hood reviewing the play to see if there was even the slightest helmet-to-helmet contact.

And if there was contact, even incidental, the offending player is ejected.

With limited game-day rosters, that's not a great idea for the NFL. Also, do we need more reviewable plays? Isn't the idea to speed the games up, not slow them down?

• How hard is it to win on the road in the NFL? The Steelers are 207-202-2 in road games since the 1970 NFL merger.

That .506 winning percentage is second-best to the Cowboys (212-198, .517) in that time span. Only two other teams, the 49ers and Patriots, have a .500 or better record and they're both at .500 on the nose going into the Week 15 schedule.

• The Steelers will see their five-year streak of leading the NFL in sacks come to an end this season – unless they somehow happen to record about 35 sacks in their final four games.

The Eagles currently lead the NFL with 49 sacks, while the Steelers have 25. That puts the Steelers on pace to finish the season with around 33 sacks.

The Steelers haven't had that few sacks since 2014.

The team's streak of leading the league in sacks had to end sometime. After all, since they became an official statistic in 1982, no team had ever led the league in sacks in back-to-back seasons before the Steelers did so. Then, they did it five consecutive seasons.

The troubling thing about the Steelers failing to record more sacks this season is that the team is blitzing 32.7 percent of the time. Last season, the Steelers blitzed 27 percent of the time and recorded 55 sacks.

So, they're blitzing more and getting home a lot less.

Certainly, having star outside linebacker and 2021 NFL Defensive Player of the Year T.J. Watt not available for seven games this season didn't help. But this goes beyond that.

After all, while Watt tied the NFL record with 22.5 sacks last season – in 15 games – the rest of the team also recorded 32.5 sacks.

Outside linebacker Alex Highsmith has done his part, getting to the quarterback 10 times this season, up from 6.0 last year. But the sacks from the rest of the defense have been lacking.

• It started around midseason and has continued into recent weeks. Why not just sit this guy or that guy and play a youngster to, "see what he can do."

That's not something the Steelers are interested in doing – nor should they be.

"No, we're in the business of trying to win a game," Steelers defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said this week when asked if it's time to get younger players into the mix. "I'm not in the business of trying to see who's up for next year's varsity squad. I want guys right now that can help us win a game, because our job is to win games now. And that's the only way I'll coach."

The old "put so-and-so into the game to see what he can do" mantra suggests that the coaching staff doesn't evaluate players on a daily basis in practice and the meeting rooms. And that most certainly happens.

• Dale Lolley is co-host of "SNR Drive" on Steelers Nation Radio. Subscribe to the podcast here: Apple Podcast | iHeart Podcast

If the coaches thought a young player could step in and help the team win, they would play him. That's how the NFL works.

Playing a young guy to "see what he can do," will more often than not only prove why that player wasn't on the field to begin with.

In fact, playing a young player before he's ready to be out there could do more harm than good.

• What kind of career trajectory is Steelers tight end Pat Freiermuth on?

His 113 career catches in his first 28 games are the 10th-most by a tight end in NFL history.

Freiermuth also has 1,127 receiving yards thus far in his first two seasons, the most by a Steelers' tight end in his first two seasons.

Kansas City's Travis Kelce is the gold standard when it comes to tight ends in the NFL. Baltimore's Mark Andrews also is considered in the upper stratosphere for tight ends, as well.

But Freiermuth is right there with Andrews.

Andrews has 58 catches for 681 yards and five touchdowns this season. Freiermuth has 53 receptions for 630 yards and two scores. Both have played 12 games.

The difference is that Andrews has gotten 92 targets this season, while Freiermuth has 82.

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