Flag day; Steelers, Tomlin not concerned despite deluge of penalties



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PITTSBURGH — Mike Tomlin's list of issues with the Steelers is lengthy.

The number of flags his team has piled up during the first two weeks of the season is not on it.

While the Pittsburgh Steelers have been flagged 20 times during their 1-1 start — the third-highest total in the league — Tomlin believes there's plenty of time for things to even out.

"We're two games into this one," Tomlin said Tuesday. "Hopefully by the time we're able to compare this year to last or any year for that matter over a 16, 19-game schedule or 20-game schedule if you will (that) we'll have a better showing than we have to this point."

The Steelers have typically been among the NFL's more well-behaved franchises during Tomlin's tenure. They've only finished in the top half of the league among most penalized teams twice since 2008.

Pittsburgh was the 10th-most penalized team in 2010 and still went to the Super Bowl. The Steelers ranked 16th in 2011, but went 12-4 and advanced to the playoffs. That doesn't mean Tomlin wouldn't like to see some improvement heading into Sunday's game at Carolina (2-0), it simply means there are bigger issues at the moment.

Asked if he sees the uptick in flags on his players symptomatic of a league-wide crackdown and he shrugged his shoulders.

"I haven't looked at it globally," Tomlin said. "I'm not really familiar with anything going on outside of Pittsburgh right now."

And what Tomlin sees is a group that's trying to do the right thing most of the time even if Pittsburgh leads the NFL in unnecessary roughness penalties (three) and personal foul facemasks (three).

Two of the unnecessary roughness calls came in a span of a minute during last week's 26-6 loss to Baltimore. Safety Troy Polamalu was flagged when officials ruled he hit Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta when Pitta was trying to complete a catch.

A couple of snaps later, safety Mike Mitchell drew a whistle for slamming into Baltimore wide receiver Steve Smith at the goal line. Replays showed Mitchell — who was fined several times last year for dangerous hits while playing for Carolina — appeared to lead with his shoulder.

The call on Mitchell set up a short Baltimore touchdown that made it 17-6 and the Steelers never recovered.

"I don't have major concerns about our ability to respect the player-safety initiative and lowering the target and things of that nature," Tomlin said. "I know that we were called a couple of times in the football game, but largely in regards to our guys and our approach to it, I have very little concern."

The Steelers had a similar rough start in 2012, drawing 28 penalties through the first three games. They turned it around quickly enough to end up the seventh least-penalized team that year.

While Tomlin allowed keeping the referees from reaching into their pockets would help his team avoid the kind of sloppy play that highlighted the loss to Baltimore, he's more worried about a rush defense that is allowing 170 yards per game.

Pressed on if it's simply bad tackling or players being out of position, Tomlin just laughed.

"It's all something that needs to be addressed and quickly rectified," he said.

Doing it against the Panthers won't be easy. Carolina has one of the better running back combinations in the league in Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams. Throw in quarterback Cam Newton and Carolina is among the most physical teams in the NFL.

"It starts with working to minimize what they are capable of doing in the run game for us," Tomlin said. "We haven't been our best in that area."

Pittsburgh needs to improve quickly or risk its third consecutive start of 1-2 or worse.

NOTES: WR Lance Moore (groin) practiced on Monday and will make his season debut if he goes through the rest of the week without a setback. ... NT Steve McLendon is dealing with a right shoulder injury is questionable.


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