Here is a statistic that may sting but will not come as a surprise. The Pittsburgh Steelers were flagged 152 times this season, tied for third most in the NFL. What may be a little more surprising is just how much more the Steelers were flagged in 2016 compared to 2015. According to a study by Sportfacts.org, the Steelers not only held the claim of biggest increase in penalty yardage from last season to this season but also had the biggest increase in the number of penalties itself.
Keeping in mind that this data includes all penalties called, not just the ones accepted, the Steelers were only flagged 110 times in 2015 but this season – 152 times. The additional 42 penalty calls also contributed to 332 more penalty yardage this year compared to last.
When information such as this is presented, the first reaction is to point a finger of guilt. But just who should the Steelers be pointing the finger of blame towards? Antonio Brown, for his touchdown celebration antics? Probably not, though Brown was flagged seven times this year, only five of those flags were accepted for a total of 55 yards. That is only one more penalty and 15 additional yards than Brown’s 2015 penalty rap sheet, making Brown a poor target of blame.
If not Brown, then who? Who else could be responsible for the Steelers ranking among the league’s worst in being penalized? The truth is, there was more than just one single player on the Steelers roster who was at fault for the team’s plunge into the depths of penalty hell.
Those two players are rookie corner Artie Burns and Pro Bowl offensive lineman David DeCastro. The two were flagged a combined 31 times over the course of the regular season and post season with each having 12 penalty calls accepted on their record. Those 12 penalty calls tied them for fourth most in the entire league for the year.
Burns’ 12 penalties called resulted in 128 penalty yards, giving Burns five more penalties called and 39 more yards than Antwon Blake had last year for the Steelers. The adjustment from college to the pros is a tough one, both physically and mentally and if Burns will not admit this, the penalty data will do it for him.
DeCastro’s attraction to more penalties is a head scratcher. The two-time Pro Bowl guard was penalized just three times all last season for just 15 yards. This season though, it seems that DeCastro was in the market for yellow flags, collecting 12 for 82 yards – a difference of 9 additional penalties and 67 extra yards.
The Steelers being the league’s worst in penalty difference from last season to this was in fact caused not by the antics of Brown or an undisciplined locker room. The Steelers’ penalty problems arise mainly from the uncharacteristic play from DeCastro and the result of a rookie corner adjusting to life in the NFL.