Pittsburgh Steelers work to cut down on penalties

By The Sports Xchange  |  Sept. 20, 2017 at 10:19 PM
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PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers lead the NFL in one category they'd rather not: penalties.

After two games, the Steelers have committed 23 penalties for 215 yards. That's three more penalties than any other team for 27 more yards than the next most penalized team.

The Steelers are 2-0 after beating the Vikings, 26-9, Sunday at Heinz Field, but head coach Mike Tomlin knows the Steelers can't continue to commit self-inflicted wounds and expect to continue winning.

The Vikings game was a comedy of errors on both sides. The Steelers committed 10 penalties for 72 yards. The Vikings one-upped them by committing 11 penalties for 131 yards.

For the Steelers, believe it or not, the 10 penalties against the Vikings was an improvement over their Week 1 game against the Browns when they were penalized 13 times for 144 yards.

"We were still highly penalized, but we were less penalized than we were in Week 1, particularly some of the penalties that are troublesome from a coach perspective - the post-play penalties, for example," Tomlin said. "We were highly penalized in that area in the opener. We improved in that area dramatically and that's reasonable to expect.

"It's also reasonable to expect us to continue to improve on some of the end-thing plays we're getting called on, holding and so forth whether it's on defense or offense. We'll continue to work to develop skills relative to our position - hands, eyes and feet relative to our position. We believe that if we continue to focus on that in preparation that the penalties will continue to come down. That's our intention."

The Steelers have been able to overcome their miscues and are off to a 2-0 start. The Bears are 0-2 and were not very competitive last week in their 29-7 loss to the Buccaneers.

The Bears have not been a productive group on offense. Against the Buccaneers, they committed four turnovers, including one that was returned for a touchdown.

The Steelers, on the other hand, have only committed one turnover in the first two games - a Ben Roethlisberger interception against the Browns.

That was an emphasis for the Steelers this summer.

"I don't know if he threw an interception in (training camp)," Tomlin said. "He's just done a great job of taking care of the ball. And oftentimes, particularly in the early stages of the season, that's just enough to maybe get you out of a stadium. We've done a good job of taking care of the ball.

"It's a good thing because at this juncture, we haven't gotten the ball a lot. So even though we haven't gotten the ball a lot, I think we're still plus-one in the turnover margin, and you know how significant the turnover margin is to winning and losing. You saw that play out last week in Tampa. Those teams are much closer, and I'm sure Chicago is a much better team than what was on display down there because of first-half turnovers, one of which was a pick-six. That will ruin the climate."

SERIES HISTORY: 27th regular-season meeting. Bears lead series, 18-7-1. The Bears have won the past two meetings, including a 40-23 win at Heinz Field in 2013. The Bears are 11-1 in games played in Chicago. The only time the Steelers beat the Bears in Chicago was 1995. They won, 37-34, in overtime en route to an AFC championship.

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Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin confirmed that Anthony Chickillo had bypassed James Harrison at right outside linebacker. Harrison was listed as the backup to T.J. Watt, but when Watt left the Vikings game with a groin injury, it was Chickillo who played the remainder of the game. Harrison didn't play at all.

"Is he dropping, or are other guys ascending?" Tomlin asked. "Bud (Dupree) missed some time in Week 1, and Chickillo was able to start. Chickillo produced two sacks. You respect those contributions. T.J. got hurt in Week 2, and we wanted to leave the hot hand in there. We appreciate James. We know what James is capable of. James will ready himself, and there will be a time in the season when we'll call on his services, and he'll deliver and deliver in a big way, much like he did in the latter part of 2016."

It doesn't sound like Tomlin plans to make Harrison inactive anytime soon. Harrison does not play special teams, but dressing a player that does not contribute is possible because Tomlin said he has so many other players that participate on multiple special teams units.

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Rookie receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster has pushed his way into the receiver rotation. Smith-Schuster, who was selected in the second round of the draft, struggled through training camp with three separate injuries, but he has demonstrated an ability to be a versatile member of the offense.

Smith-Schuster caught his first pass against the Vikings, and it went for a touchdown. But the way it happened is what makes Smith-Schuster unique. He came across the formation and caught a shovel pass from Ben Roethlisberger. It's those types of plays as well as his blocking ability that have endeared Smith-Schuster to offensive coordinator Todd Haley.

Smith-Schuster has played about half the snaps so far, and he played one more snap than slot receiver Eli Rogers against the Vikings. Smith-Schuster can play in the slot and line up as an outside receiver.

"I think we all have different attributes and play different roles," Smith-Schuster said. "There are so many different personnel groups, everyone is good to use. With all of us out there I think it's good for the team, rotating and getting our playing time."

Martavis Bryant, the No. 2 receiver who has played about three-quarters of the offensive snaps, described the receivers as a "sharing and caring" group. He suggested playing time won't be an issue.

"We just do what he wants us to do," Bryant said. "We don't go into games focusing on who will get the ball more. When everyone plays, certain plays are called for certain people we have to be ready to go. Everyone has to be ready to make that sacrifice for each other. That's how we go about our business. We just go out and have fun and play. We're not jealous of anybody else."

NOTES: S J.J. Wilcox, who missed the Vikings game because of a concussion, practiced Wednesday. He was concussed after colliding with Browns receiver Corey Coleman in the opener. ... DE Stephon Tuitt, who missed the Vikings game with a biceps injury, was limited in practice. ... OLB T.J. Watt, who left the Vikings game with a groin injury and did not return, was limited in practice. ... OLB Bud Dupree was limited with a shoulder injury. He missed the opener against the Browns due to the injury, but returned to start and play almost the entire game against the Vikings. ... T Marcus Gilbert did not practice due to a hamstring injury. Reserve Chris Hubbard took his place at right tackle.

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