“I told him, I said, ‘You might be leading the league in drawing big pass interference penalties. Is that a bad thing? That’s a play made,’” Harbaugh said. “He didn’t really want to hear it, but he came back and made the next play, so it was good.”
“If [pass interference] counted as points, we probably would have won by 100,” he said. “”It happens every game which is frustrating for me individually, but it’s great that we continue to move the ball. And we miss out on opportunities often times when that happens, but just got to keep on working.”
Smith has become the king of drawing pass interference penalties. He led the NFL by drawing 16 in 2012, and he tops the league against this year with five after just four games.
In total, those penalties committed against the speedy Smith have led to 98 yards. That nearly matches his current receiving yards (138 on eight catches).
Even though the penalties themselves don't count as points, they have led to scores for the Ravens on nearly every drive:
Penalty against Smith: Bengals' Terrence Newman (15-yard penalty). Drive result: Missed field goal.
Penalty against Smith: Steelers' Cortez Allen (23 yards). Drive result: Touchdown.
Penalty against Smith: Browns' Justin Gilbert (31 yards). Drive result: Field goal.
Penalty against Smith: Panthers' Antoine Cason (20 yards). Drive result: Touchdown.
Penalty against Smith: Cason (nine yards). Drive result: Field goal.
At night he hasn't fared quite as well.
Dalton has a 2-4 career record in prime-time games. For a quarterback who ranks among the few all-time who have won 30 games in their first three seasons and to have made the playoffs in each of those years, it's an ominous sign about how he performs on the grandest scales. When you include Dalton's postseason performances with his results in prime time, you see he has a 2-7 career record in prime-time and playoff games.
Dalton is well-aware of his past struggles in those situations. And beginning with Sunday night's game under the lights at New England, he's ready to prove that he's beyond them.
One of the knocks against Dalton coming into this season was that he couldn't win at Baltimore, let alone take a division game on the road. It only took one week for the fourth-year quarterback to render that point moot when he led the Cincinnati Bengals to a 23-16 road win over the Ravens.
Better pocket awareness, more sound decision-making and an extremely high level of confidence appear to have Dalton at ease through three games this season. He still hasn't been sacked and has only turned the ball over once. Had running back Giovani Bernard better handled a screen pass in the Bengals' previous game, the tipped ball wouldn't have been picked off and Dalton's turnover record would remain spotless, too.
Credit Dalton for exhibiting a measure of growth and maturity as a more veteran quarterback, but also give respect to offensive coordinator Hue Jackson for putting him in better positions to succeed.
While the Baltimore win may have been a good sign that Dalton's improving, a win this weekend could really start convincing his staunchest critics that he deserved the six-year, $115 million contract extension he signed during training camp.
Dalton's prime-time struggles his first three seasons have been exacerbated by the high number of road games he's played with nighttime kickoffs. Only twice in his career has be played a night game in Cincinnati. He won one of those; last year's early-season Monday night victory over the Steelers. Following this week's game, the Bengals will host a Thursday night game against the Browns in November and a Monday night game against the Broncos in December. He'll have a chance to improve upon his home prime-time record both weeks.
Entering this week's game, Dalton and the Bengals are 1-4 on the road at night since 2011. Crowd noise has been a factor in those games. He knows to expect more of the same Sunday.
"The crowd is going to be into it, you have to know that," Dalton said. "But you can't let the nerves, the energy you have going into it affect too much. There's going to be more going on on the road, but you just have to go out and play your game and feel comfortable doing it."
Dalton has looked comfortable so far this year. He's remarked often about how much fun he's having. If he remains that way this weekend, he should get one of those often elusive prime-time road wins.
He doesn’t have to; his father, Mike Sr., keeps him informed of the pulse. So when Pettine Sr. pointed out that folks were chattering about the Browns next five opponents being 4-16, he let his son know.
The response from the Browns coach was to address the issue with his team.
“That (talk) is for fans and media only,” Pettine said. “It is hard to win in this league, especially on the road.”
He stressed that looking at any team as anything other than difficult -- two of the Browns next five opponents are winless, two have one win and one has two -- is fool’s gold.
“That’s jut not how we operate,” Pettine said. “It’s a dangerous thing. I talked about being confident at 1-2, but it is so hard to win in this league.”
On many levels it’s foolish to even bring this subject up related to the Browns. They’ve had six double-digit loss season in a row, and it's been more than a year since they've won a road game.
They have every right to believe in themselves and prepare with confidence, but to assume anything before actually doing it is way premature.
“Teams are probably looking at us like ‘That’s a struggling team and we can beat them,’” safety Tashaun Gipson said.
“I don’t think any part of the schedule is favorable,” running back Ben Tate said. “Who says the schedule is favorable? That’s something y’all came up with huh?
“We all get paid. We’re all good athletes in this league. If you don’t come to play, you’re gonna get beat.”
Tate then pointed out that few thought Kansas City would blow out New England Monday night, but the Chiefs did.
“They didn’t come to play, and look what happened,” he said.
Gipson pointed to Tampa Bay visiting Pittsburgh after getting blown out by Atlanta. The Buccaneers beat the Steelers.
“We’re not in a position to look ahead,” Gipson said. “Sitting at 1-2 we’re definitely not in a position to look ahead.”
Pettine stressed that a team’s mental attitude has as much to do with winning as the physical ability. These five games on paper do present the Browns an opportunity, but the coach does not want his team looking at it that way.
“Teams that are right mentally,” Pettine said, “are the ones that win on a consistent level.”
With the Steelers facing a third-and-5 from their own 19-yard line and 1:35 left in the game, Tomlin called a run-pass option. The Steelers ran the ball on the play and Le'Veon Bell was dropped for a 2-yard loss.
That started a most unfortunate sequence for the Steelers as Brad Wing managed just a 29-yard punt. Two plays later the Steelers gave up a 41-yard reception to wide receiver Louis Murphy.
The Buccaneers scored the game-winning touchdown two plays after Murphy’s catch and run.
“I felt really good about the play,” Tomlin said of his third-down call, “and particularly in that circumstance, because it was a run-pass option, it gave us an opportunity to be successful regardless of what they did.”
Tomlin said quarterback Ben Roethlisberger opted for the handoff to Bell because the Buccaneers were playing man coverage and did not load up the box to stop the run.
“Essentially we had five-on-five blocking plus the ball carrier, and usually you like those odds,” Tomlin said.
Buccaneers Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy blew up the run with penetration and Bell had nowhere to go after reversing course.
Tomlin did not second-guess his call.
“When you lose you’ll always look back at those moments and analyze what you could have done better. I don’t live in my fears in those circumstances,” the eighth-year coach said. “I like to be aggressive. I felt comfortable with that call because it was a run-pass option.
“We didn’t execute the play correctly so whether we ran it or passed it, if you don’t execute it, you’re not going to have an opportunity for success. They executed it in that circumstance and we didn’t.”
So, who should get the start Sunday at the Indianapolis Colts?
Forsett leads the Ravens with 255 yards rushing with a combination of speed and powerful running, but he never has started more than five games in his previous seven-year career.
Pierce has shown flashes of being a legitimate starting running back in the league, but he has a history of being injury prone.
The other option is going with rookie fourth-round pick Lorenzo Taliaferro, who has more size than Forsett and more productive runs than Pierce. The Ravens typically don't rely on first-year runners, but Taliaferro has 149 yards rushing and two touchdowns in his past two games.
The Ravens really can't make a wrong call on any of these backs. It's the reason why the Ravens rank No. 9 in the NFL in rushing (134.5 yards per game). So, it's a good problem for the Ravens to have.
The Steelers were penalized 13 times for 125 yards in a 27-24 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last Sunday. Six of the penalties were 15-yard ones. The Steelers were flagged twice for unsportsmanlike conduct and once for taunting.
“The bottom line is scoring has got to become routine for him,” Tomlin said Tuesday at his weekly news conference. “He’s got to hand the ball to the official and come over to the sideline and get ready to do it again.”
Tomlin, however said, he has not banned players from celebrating after a big play as long as they are able to police themselves.
“I’m not trying to take the genuine emotions and excitement of the game away from our guys,” the eighth-year coach. “That’s not me and that’s not the right thing to do. But I will ask them to do it within the guidelines of the rules and if they can’t do that consistently then yes [no celebrating] will be a mandate.”
One penalty that Tomlin did not have a problem with last Sunday was when defensive end Cameron Heyward complained to officials after Doug Martin’s 3-yard touchdown run. Linebacker Sean Spence appeared to get held during the play and Heyward was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct after voicing his displeasure following the missed call.
The play happened on the sideline opposite the Steelers at Heinz Field.
“Everybody in the stadium thought there was a holding on the play but it wasn’t called. That’s understandable,” Tomlin said of Heyward’s reaction. “If I had been on that side of the field they probably would have penalized me. Some of the other [penalties] we have to channel our enthusiasm and energy in a more positive way.”
The Steelers have been penalized 44 times -- only the San Francisco 49ers have been flagged more -- and Tomlin said there hasn’t been any “egregious offenders” when it comes to incurring penalties.
He is hoping that having referees at practice will translate into the Steelers reducing their penalties Sunday when they visit the Jacksonville Jaguars.
“I understand that penalties are a part of football,” Tomlin said, “but the ones that really get me going are the pre-snap penalties because that’s concentration, that’s detail, that’s cohesion, that’s game readiness, and we've had too many of those really in all three phases.”
BEREA, Ohio -- A long snapper can never breathe easy.
If he struggles, teams do not wait long to make a move.
The Browns added a long snapper to the practice squad a few hours after practice on Tuesday, which can’t help Christian Yount’s REM sleep much.
Yount’s tough snaps contributed to a missed extra point against New Orleans and missed field goal against Baltimore. The missed point almost was the difference against the Saints; the missed field goal was the difference in a loss to the Ravens.
Tuesday the team signed Charley Hughlett to the practice squad. Hughlett was signed by Dallas as an undrafted free agent in 2012, and has spent time with the Cowboys, Patriots and Jaguars.
His presence might mean a move is coming soon, it might mean that the Browns are holding “competition” at the spot during practice (something Mike Pettine seems to enjoy), or it might mean that Yount’s practice snaps are still not what the team wants.
Yount is used to people breathing down his neck as he snaps.
Now he has someone doing just that as a teammate.
The Cleveland Browns are about to challenge that bromide.
Because when Ben Tate returns -- which will likely happen this week -- the Browns will have three talented running backs, all of whom will want the ball. This is not a bad thing, except that by Tate’s own admission, only two can play.
“That’s tough to have three running backs," Tate said. "As a running back you want to get in a rhythm, so it’s tough to have three. But two? Yeah, I think definitely two running backs can get the job done.”
Which means that either Terrance West or Isaiah Crowell may see his touches drop Sunday in Tennessee (assuming Tate plays). Which means someone might not be happy.
The Browns signed Tate to be the starter. He did well in preseason and in the limited time he had in Pittsburgh before spraining his right knee. Coach Mike Pettine and running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery both said Tate would return to the starting lineup when healthy.
West was drafted in the third round to share time with Tate, and he’s played well, running for a team-high 204 yards and two touchdowns. But Crowell has really opened eyes. The undrafted free agent is a punishing runner who is averaging 5.2 yards per carry.
How do they see the playing time shaking out?
“I envision all of us being out there, getting time, getting reps, running the ball (and) being the best backfield in the league,” Crowell said.
“Whoever’s got the hot hand and whoever will get us the win, that’s who we’re going to roll with,” West said.
The Browns had all three active in Pittsburgh, and Crowell scored two touchdowns. That happened after Tate was hurt, but it’s possible the team could find carries for all three. Tate, though, is the clear starter by virtue of his experience and ability.
If there are issues with the setup, it might be worth thinking back to the halcyon days of 2013.
Then the Browns’ leading rusher was Willis McGahee, who had 377 yards, less than twice what West has in three games.
Then the Browns had no 100-yard rushing games; West had one in his first NFL game.
Then the Browns had four rushing touchdowns all season; now the Browns have five.
Then offensive coordinator Norv Turner scoffed incredulously at a question about running the ball more; now Pettine says the team is committed to a mentality that they will run the ball.
Then the team had a safety (on a fake punt) and two receivers lead the team in rushing in games. Now there are three running backs who are averaging at least 4 yards per carry.
The Fozzy Whittaker/Edwin Baker days are over.
The Browns addressed the issue in the offseason, signing a veteran free agent, drafting a back and bringing in another undrafted free agent. If addressing the issue leads to occasional unhappiness, so be it. Fantasy team owners just have to pick the right guy.
In Cleveland, the running game matters, and the fact the Browns recognize that truth is a welcome development.
Shazier did not play in the Steelers’ 27-24 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after hurting his right knee in the third quarter the previous week at Carolina.
“We’ll get him moving in some form or fashion today to get an evaluation of his overall readiness, but I wouldn’t be too optimistic his participation,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday at his weekly news conference. “He’s a young guy from a health standpoint that [possibly] changes that.”
The Steelers came out of the Buccaneers game in good shape from an injury standpoint, a week after three of their defensive starters went down with injuries.
Outside linebacker Jarvis Jones (wrist) is on the injured reserve/designated for return list and is out for at least the next seven weeks. Cornerback Ike Taylor is out indefinitely after having surgery on his broken right forearm.
Arthur Moats started in place of Jones last Sunday at right outside linebacker, and Sean Spence filled in for Shazier at left inside linebacker. Brice McCain saw his first extensive action of the season, playing nickel back for William Gay, who started at right cornerback in place of Taylor.
Tomlin said he expects Moats, Spence and McCain “to take a significant jump” this Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars after getting a game to settle into their new roles.
“I thought they were adequate [against the Buccaneers], but I think they all could be better,” Tomlin said. “I expect them all to be better.”
The bench, otherwise known as the coaches.
The Browns have been penalized for having 12 men on the field or in the huddle four times, the most frequent penalty called against the team.
Thus coach Mike Pettine’s emphasis prior to the bye week was on fixing procedures, because all are a result of not getting the right substitutions done properly.
The 12-men calls broke down this way:
- The offense had 12 in the huddle against the Saints.
- The defense had 12 on the field against the Saints.
- The defense twice had 12 on the field against the Ravens, and it would have happened a third time had Karlos Dansby not used a timeout to avoid the penalty, a move he called “an executive decision.”
The four 12-men penalties leads the NFL, two ahead of the Panthers and Jaguars, who have two each, according to ESPN Stats and Information. The Browns were called for five all of last season and have accounted for 22 percent of the 12-men penalties in the NFL this season (four of the 18). The Browns have played three games; 26 teams have played four.
This explains Pettine’s anger and his taking accountability for the loss to the Ravens. And it is partly the result of change, because new coaches have new systems that require new signals that require adjustments. Consider: The Browns and Raiders lead the league in 12-men calls since 2001, per ESPN Stats and Information. The two teams have had 31 flags for that violation during that span and combined have had 16 coaches (including interim coaches) -- seven for the Browns and nine for the Raiders.
The day after the loss to the Ravens, Pettine said things had to change, immediately, because the way things were going was “trouble.”
He said the Browns would practice it better and learn to better deal with crowd noise, an oddity given the calls happened at home. Pettine has adjusted to make many signals come through the communication system between the sidelines and huddle.
“There are no excuses for that,” Pettine said. “We need to get better.”
In other penalty oddities through three games:
- Justin Gilbert has the most penalty yards on the team by virtue of his 31-yard pass interference penalty against the Ravens.
- Two Pro Bowlers lead their units. Joe Thomas has been flagged twice for 20 yards and Joe Haden three times for 15 yards. Don’t expect the Browns to start working people out at their positions.
Jones has been surpassed by Marlon Brown as the team's No. 3 wide receiver, based on the snap counts. It's been a tough start to the season for Jones, who has more drops (four) than catches (three). In fact, he's dropped half of the passes thrown his way, including an easy throw that bounced off his hands Sunday.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Jones catches passes during practice, and he is working hard at improving by catching passes after practice every day.
"Sometimes I think he’s pressing. I really do," Harbaugh said. "Jacoby has a lot of pride, and he’s made big, big plays in this league before, and he wants to pick up where he left off. [That] hasn’t happened for him, but the thing he has to know -- just like Torrey [Smith], just like anybody -- is that the key is persistence. You just keep hammering, and you don’t get down on yourself and focus on the fundamentals and the details, and it’ll work out.”
Jones has never been considered a reliable pass catcher, which is why he's never developed beyond a No. 3 target. But the Ravens aren't going to give up on Jones because he has a history of being a playmaker.
He made two of the biggest and most memorable catches for the Ravens during their Super Bowl championship run a couple of seasons ago. His 70-yard touchdown catch in Denver, also known as the Mile High Miracle, propelled the Ravens' to an AFC divisional playoff win. His 56-yard touchdown grab near the end of the first half was one of the key plays in the Ravens' Super Bowl triumph.
At this point, the Ravens have to go with Brown until Jones breaks out of his funk. Brown played 31 offensive snaps on Sunday, and Jones received only six.
While he doesn't have the same explosiveness as Jones, Brown caught all three passes thrown in his direction on Sunday for 31 yards. Two of Brown's receptions converted third downs.
"[He] did a good job, made a couple plays -- third-down conversions that were very important," Harbaugh said of Brown. "[He is a] big target, gets off press really well and blocks, and he did a good job in special teams. He played well."
The Steelers have to get more out of their outside linebackers after the three who played in Sunday's 27-24 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers combined for two tackles and two quarterback pressures.
The outside linebackers are critical to pressuring the quarterback in a 3-4 defense, and the Steelers are without one of their starters for at least the next seven weeks as right outside linebacker Jarvis Jones recovers from surgery that fixed a dislocated wrist.
That injury left the Steelers so thin at a position that has produced so many great players that they coaxed a former great out of retirement to provide depth.
James Harrison played 27 snaps less than a week after re-signing with the Steelers, and he didn’t record a tackle or a quarterback pressure against the Buccaneers.
Harrison, 36, will get better as he rounds into football shape, but the Steelers can’t expect him to resemble anything close to the pass-rusher he was when he made five consecutive Pro Bowls from 2007 to '11.
They should expect more from left outside linebacker Jason Worilds, who emerged in the second half of last season after getting a chance to start on a regular basis.
Worilds has not built on his strong finish in 2013 as the fifth-year veteran has just one sack and three quarterback pressures at the quarter point of the season.
The Steelers have moved Worilds around, and against the Buccaneers they sometimes flipped Worilds and defensive end Brett Keisel in their nickel package.
Keisel moved outside and Worilds rushed the quarterback from the interior of the Steelers’ defense, but the move did not generate the desired results.
Worilds is playing for a contract after signing a one-year, $9.754 million deal in March.
The Steelers need the soft-spoken linebacker to play with more of a sense of urgency and revert back to his 2013 form as they try to generate more pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
There used to be a time when quarterbacks feared throwing against the Ravens' safeties. That's a distant memory now.
When the Ravens line up Sunday against Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, Matt Elam and Darian Stewart will have bulls-eyes on their backs. The problem is Elam and Stewart are both strong safeties who excel playing close to the line of scrimmage and struggle when in coverage.
That has been apparent all season, and it was the team's major weakness again last Sunday. Stewart allowed four of the five passes thrown in his direction to get completed for 67 yards. His slow reaction time was the reason why Panthers wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin was so wide-open for Carolina's only touchdown of the game. Stewart was supposed to have the deep zone on that play, and he wasn't even close when Benjamin caught the ball in the end zone.
Elam didn't fare much better, failing to break up any of the three passes thrown at him. The former first-round pick gave up 61 yards passing. Injuries have forced Elam into a tough position of playing nickelback, which requires him to cover the slot receiver. While Elam played tighter coverage than earlier in the season, he didn't turn to make a play on the ball.
Only time will help the Ravens in pass coverage. When cornerback Lardarius Webb is back at full strength, the Ravens can use Webb or Asa Jackson at nickelback. There will also be another option at safety in two more games, when Will Hill comes off suspension. These aren't definite solutions, but they can become immediate upgrades.
The Steelers could not stop Tampa Bay quarterback Mike Glennon late Sunday afternoon as the second-year man threw for 245 yards in the second half and needed just 33 seconds to drive the Buccaneers 46 yards for the winning touchdown.
The Steelers were solid against the run for the second consecutive game, but they didn’t put nearly enough heat on Glennon, who was making just his 14th NFL start.
“We have to get consistent pressure on the quarterback, especially late in the game,” veteran defensive end Brett Keisel said. “Rush and coverage work together.”
They better start working together or the Steelers may have to outscore teams to win games.
At the quarter point of the season, here is a statistical look at the Steelers’ defense compared to last season.
2013: 27.5 (Points allowed per game)
2013: 122.8 (Yards allowed per game)
2013: 37.9 (conversion rate by opposing offense)
Analysis: There has been an alarming spike in penalties -- only the San Francisco 49ers have been flagged more than the Steelers. That's on the offense, defense, special teams and coach Mike Tomlin. The eighth-year coach called out his players after the loss to the Buccaneers and said he will fix the penalty problem. That vow, however, inspired more eye-rolling than confidence among a lot of Steelers fans. ... Like last season, this is a flawed defense. The lack of a consistent pass rush has exposed a suspect secondary, and the Steelers aren’t getting nearly enough impact plays from starting safeties Troy Polamalu and Mike Mitchell. The two have one pass defended and no interceptions between them. Is it time to find a way to get second-year safety Shamarko Thomas on the field? ... The Steelers are averaging less than two sacks and less than one takeaway per game. ... Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau has taken a lot of criticism, but I’m not sure he has the players to make this a consistently good unit. Still, it is incumbent upon LeBeau to find a way to get the most out of what he has.