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Tomlin: 'We have to play cleaner'

It's a dubious distinction to be sure, but it's a category in which the Steelers currently are well out in front of the rest of the NFL: penalties assessed.

After being penalized 13 times for 155 yards on Monday night in Tampa against the Buccaneers, the Steelers three-game total of assessed penalties has risen to 37. The next highest penalized team is Buffalo with 28.

In terms of a per-game basis, the Steelers have been agonizingly consistent in this category. They were penalized 12 times in the game against the Browns, 12 times in the game against the Chiefs, and 13 times last night against the Buccaneers.

"I talked after the (Buccaneers) game about the penalties," said Coach Mike Tomlin during his weekly news conference today at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. "The penalties were a significant element of the game. And really, I'll say two specific things about the penalties: it was an emotional game, a big game, prime-time for us responding to a negative performance, so I understand the emotions in it, but boy, we've got to play cleaner than we played Monday night. We played hard, but we have to play cleaner. We have to play smarter."

The 2018 season started off relatively flag-happy, because there were 255 penalties assessed during Kickoff Weekend. That was the second-most flag-filled weekend since 2007. There were an average of 15.9 penalties for 140.8 yards assessed per game during the first weekend of the season, and things really haven't tapered off that much since.

During the 16 games that made up Week 3 of the 2018 regular season, there were 242 penalties assessed. Nine of those 16 games had at least 15 penalties assessed on the teams, and only one game – Cincinnati-Carolina – had fewer than 10.

In terms of the per-team tabulations so far, the Steelers are way ahead with 37; there are six teams sitting between 25-30 total penalties, and 16 more between 20-24 total penalties. The team with the fewest assessed penalties is the New York Giants with 12.

"The second thing I'll say is: penalties were called in a similar fashion on both sides (in our games), and from that perspective it's fair," said Tomlin. "I don't worry a lot about how the game is being officiated provided that it's being officiated in a similar way (for both teams), and I thought it was from that perspective. But as somebody who appreciates the game and understands we're in the sport-entertainment business, it is worrisome from the fan perspective. I worry about what it's like to watch that game at home, with penalties being administered at the rate they were."

"Mike Hilton's elbow is being evaluated as we speak. A number of the guys who missed time last week because of injury – Morgan Burnett, David DeCastro, Marcus Gilbert – all have a legitimate chance to participate in this game. And as we always do, their practice participation will be our guide in terms of their availability."