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In a heated rivalry such as the bi-annual meeting between the Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers, penalties could play a huge role.
And the trends favor the Ravens.
Baltimore has gone from the NFL’s third-most-penalized team (115) – with a league-worst 1,094 yards lost in 2009 – to one of its most-disciplined, tied for 25th with 60 flags for 487 yards.
As for the Steelers, an average of 9.3 penalties for 114 yards in their past four games marks a cause for concern. Through the 2010 campaign, the Steelers have the 10th-most penalties (72 for 653 yards).
Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said a renewed focus on coaching technique has led to his squad’s efficiency. The Ravens also regularly host collegiate officials at their practices to make it a game-like scenario.
“Our guys have done a very good job, and our coaches have done a really good job of emphasizing technique when it comes to the major penalties – holding and defensive pass interference and personal fouls – as it comes to player safety,” Harbaugh said on Monday. “When it comes to the major penalties: Holding, defensive pass inference and personal fouls when it comes to player safety, those are the big ones.
“Right now, we need a lot of pre-snap penalties cleaned up on offense – that’s been our biggest issue.”
Two weeks ago, it was 14 penalties for a franchise-record 163 yards against the Oakland Raiders.
While Pittsburgh did win those games, neither team can afford dumb mistakes that can give their opponent an easy advantage.
The Steelers should know. They were whistled 11 times for 88 yards when they first met the Ravens on Oct. 3. Two of those penalties came in the fourth quarter when the Steelers were holding on to a four-point lead.
Baltimore won on a last-minute touchdown pass.
“That’s Steelers beating Steelers, but through the entire game, too many penalties,” said Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin after that Ravens game. “We didn’t play clean enough to earn a victory. And that’s just black and white.”
The lowly Bills (2-9) got some help in pushing their meeting with the Steelers to overtime with 10 infractions for 107 yards. Left guard Chris Kemoeatu was tagged with three holding calls that negated potentially big plays.
In addition, linebacker James Harrison, who has already been fined $95,000 this year, earned another roughing the passer penalty for leading with his helmet as he hit Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.
“We killed ourselves with penalties,” said Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger after defeating the Bills. “It’s a shame.”
Obviously, the battle of yellow hankies will be closely monitored this Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.