Steelers brace for potential punishment

BILL LANKHOF, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:59 AM ET

TORONTO - The Pittsburgh Steelers are feeling persecuted.

They’re getting the feeling that they’re dinosaurs in a league intent on hastening their extinction.

Once upon a time the Steelers’ anything-goes, punishing defence was admired or at the very least tolerated.

But that was before Mike Webster got hit in the head once too often; before Terry Long and Justin Strzelczyk had their brains turn into spaghetti from too many hits to the head; before research showed that repeated blows to the head could lead to dementia and Lou Gehrig’s disease.

The new NFL is determined to tone down the violence and eliminate helmet-to-helmet collisions. It doesn’t want to see any more players sitting in circles, holding hands and praying over fallen team-mates.

And, it certainly doesn’t want to see James Harrison planting anymore quarterbacks like tombstones into the Heinz Field turf.

So, once again, this week Harrison and the Steelers await word on potential league retribution after the most-penalized game in team history.

A shower of flags and a team-record 163 yards in penalties clouded a blowout win over Oakland.

“You know what it’s come to? They’re penalizing us for hitting too hard,” Steelers linebacker James Farrior protested in a Pittsburgh newspaper. “It’s sad.”

That is only half the fact. The league doesn’t so much dislike the hard hits as it dislikes the way they are delivered. Too often, it seems players have lost respect for each other. So much so that it often isn’t about tackling a player as much as it is about hitting and hurting him. Even Harrison admitted as much after an earlier fine this year.

That’s just wrong.

So maybe the league’s officials are targetting the Steelers. More likely they’re protecting their own livelihood because the league has told officials they’ll be disciplined if they fail to throw flags on rough play.

It really isn’t happening just to the Steelers, although they may be more sensitive to the issue. Last Sunday, the Patriots’ Tully Banta-Cain was called for a rough tackle on Pierre Garcon that led to a touchdown. Seattle’s Pete Carroll was annoyed at a roughing-the-passer penalty against Raheem Brock that led to a touchdown that gave the Saints a 28-13 lead.

Brock hit Brees just after he released the pass, but was called for a personal foul. Carroll said in past years, that was probably not called a penalty.

“I thought it was a normal football play,” Carroll said. “Timing was just bang-bang, as fast as you can get ... We didn’t hear helmet to helmet or any of that kind of stuff. So I don’t really know what the explanation is.”

The Steelers were similarly puzzled at three personal foul penalties; LaMarr Woodley was called for pushing quarterback Jason Campbell in the chest with two hands; Ryan Clark was called for a helmet-to-helmet hit on receiver Jacoby Ford even though the impact was in the upper back and Harrison was called for hitting Campbell and falling, as referee Tony Corrente announced to a national TV audience, “with full body weight on top of him.” Still, the only guy to get thrown out of the game wasn’t a Steeler but Oakland’s Richard Seymour, who got fined $25,000 on Tuesday.

All those flags are reminiscent of the NHL’s crackdowns on fighting, and a few years ago, restraining calls. It is tedious to watch. Maybe it is over-done. But, maybe, it isn’t as wrong as it feels. Maybe the referees have to dumb it down before the players smarten up.

“I’m not going to question the officiating,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin told reporters yesterday. “I understand the climate that we’re in from that standpoint. I’m just not going to do it; our guys aren’t going to do it. We’re going to play football, and we’re going to try to play it as fairly as we can, as cleanly as we can.”

Quick hits

Former two-time CFL defensive player of the year, Cameron Wake, continues to impress since moving to the Dolphins. According to Scouts Inc. he’s explosive, powerful, “generates a lot of power from his hips ... is one of the premier pass-rushers in the NFL, and his run defence has improved immensely.” ... The Redskins bolstered their injury-depleted secondary signing free agent defensive back Macho Harris ... Coach Sean Payton says he feels “pretty good” about Reggie Bush’s availability for Thursday’s game against Dallas ... The Giants will sign former Bucs receiver Michael Clayton. He worked out with the team on Monday ... Last year Bills’ safety Jairus Byrd had nine interceptions and was a rookie of the year candidate. Sunday he was benched in favour of George Wilson, a former wide receiver. Wilson responded with the first interception by a Buffalo defensive back this season.


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