On Second Thought: Refereeing in the Steelers/Bengals Week 2 Match


via Foxsports

There are so many things one could talk about in this game, good and bad. Some players would show up in both columns—Sammie Coates, for instance. His ability to stretch the field is awesome, but as the person formerly known as PaVaSteeler stated after the game, Coates appears to give inconsistent effort. However you view it, he certainly needed to have made more effort to wrest the ball from Dre Kirkpatrick. Sometimes your quarterback makes you look good, and sometimes you have to bail him out.

There was a whole lot to like about the defense, although the nit-packers will still shout, I’m sure, about how many yards they gave up and how few sacks they got.

But beyond the game itself there was a whole lot going on in terms of the officiating, with varying results. Everyone knew the refs were going to be extra vigilant, with the intention of preventing the sort of blood-bath which took place in the Wild Card game last January. As well they should. If I wanted to watch an all-out brawl, I wouldn’t be turning to the NFL for my entertainment.

But in the end it turned out to be unnecessary. Whether it will be so again on Week 15 remains to be seen, although Steeler Nation will be pretty wroth should the refs not keep a particular eye on Vontaze Burfict. But Sunday’s game was not marred by much in the way of extra-curricular activity, at least as far as I could tell. Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette relayed the following story in yesterday’s paper:

At one point Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick said something to Steelers guard Ramon Foster that actually can be printed in a family newspaper.

“Man,” Kirkpatrick said, via Foster, “this is how this game is supposed to be played; a good, old-fashioned football game.”

“And when you respect a team, the way we do,” Foster told reporters, “and they respect us, that’s the type of game you get. It was an old-school game.”

Bouchette also mentioned that only ten penalties were accepted. (There were a few more which were declined, including, of course, the special teams play in which the Bengals committed three fouls.) But there was some amount of angst about the officiating nonetheless, including this query to Ray Fittipaldo in yesterday’s Steelers chat:

Guest: Bad officiating both ways yesterday I thought, you?

Ray Fittipaldo: Yeah I didn’t think it was a very good game for that crew. And as you mentioned there were some bad calls both ways.

So with that thought let’s take a look at both the calls which were actually made and the ones which weren’t. As I told a Bengals fan, I realize that I will be looking with Steelers-tinted glasses, but of course he will necessarily have a bit of an orange-striped cast to how he views it as well. This is what makes us fans.

And I won’t be able to do so with the all-22 coaches film yet, as that doesn’t come out until mid-week, but I will do my best with the broadcast film. Flagged plays in color of flagged team. Comments in italics.

First Quarter

  • 10:31—Illegal shift penalty on CIN, declined. [It wasn’t easy to see what was going on during the snap, but I didn’t hear any complaints from the Bengals.] 
  • 7:00—False start penalty on PIT (Marcus Gilbert) [The commentators were busy wittering about the previous play and it wasn’t even shown. Again, though, no complaints…]
  • 3:46—TD, Xavier Grimble. [It wouldn’t surprise me if there was some amount of grumbling (or grimbling, perhaps?) over whether this was a touchdown, especially in light of the incomplete ruling in the endzone later in the game against CIN. But watching it a couple of times, it is clear that the ball breaks the plane before either knee touches the ground or the ball comes loose. It was, of course, reviewed, as scoring plays are, and there shouldn’t be any question about it.]
  • 3:46—after the PIT extra point was kicked the announcers showed the play in slow motion, mentioning that 6’6″ Karlos Dunlap came close to getting a piece of it. [What the film also showed, and wasn’t mentioned, was that Dunlap might well have been nicked for leverage, as he clearly pushed himself upward with the assistance of Ramon Foster’s back.] 
  • :13—pass to David Johnson for 5 yards. [Johnson was stopped by Rey Malaluga and Karlos Dansby, in both cases by smacking him in the helmet. No comment from anyone involved, and may have been considered incidental contact, but it didn’t look great to me.]

Second Quarter

  • 15:00—hit on Ben Roethlisberger right after the throw by Karlos Dansby. [The commentators mention the hit “could get flagged” as it was a crown of the helmet hit into Ben’s throat that made his head snap back. This is very likely one of the hits which sent him to the locker room temporarily—although we don’t see it on the game broadcast. In the post-game presser Ben was asked whether his “trips” (plural) to the locker room were health or equipment related, and he said “both.” I’m guessing he had at least two concussion tests, and I’m guessing that even though he apparently didn’t show up concussed it possibly affected his clarity. He threw a fair number of wonky passes after that. The commentators also noted that the big QBs like Ben and Cam Newton don’t get the flags the other QBs do. They continued to talk about it for the next couple of plays. The on-field announcer even mentioned that the Steelers keep track of these non-flagged hits in the QB room while they watch the game film.]
  • 13:09—end around by Sammie Coates. Taken down by Adam Jones, who dives at Coates’ knees. [Not cool. But the really not-cool part was Michael Johnson leading with his helmet, right into Sammie Coates’ ear hole, as he was going down. No flag, no discussion.]
  • 11:51—short pass to Darrius Heyward-Bey, who takes a vicious shot that knocks his helmet off from Adam Jones. [Commentator: “He recognizes this route right away and he breaks it up with a hit to the helmet.” Um, okay…]
  • 10:55—incomplete pass from Dalton—intended receiver “takes a shot after the ball passes him by.” [Mike Mitchell made a “perhaps questionable late hit,”  hitting him on the shoulder with no head contact. Wasn’t flagged, perhaps should have been.]
  • 8:43—incomplete to Antonio Brown—announcers note “Brown is looking for a flag.” He doesn’t get it. Should he have? Well, the DB put his arm around AB’s back in a way which would have been more appropriate had they been courting, but it was right as the ball arrived, and the ball was overthrown. Had that been flagged, I would definitely have felt it was a marginal call at best. 
  • 8:31—this is the infamous punt return which garnered three different CIN penalties. I couldn’t see enough to say whether they all deserved being called, but that’s an impressive amount of penalties to incur on a single play…
  • 7:51—completion to Tyler Boyd. Ryan Shazier may or may not have had contact to Boyd’s helmet. It was really difficult to see with the angles shown. No suggestion was made of an illegal hit.
  • 5:59—unnecessary roughness penalty on CIN during punt. They didn’t show it, but there was no suggestion the penalty was unwarranted.
  • 5:05—pass incomplete to Eli Rogers. The covering DB from Cincy had his back to the ball and was all up in Rogers’ grill. Presumably it wasn’t really PI because the pass was short. But there was no way for the DB to know that.
  • 1:30—pass incomplete to Sammie Coates. According to the announcers, Coates and Kirkpatrick were “tied up” about 10 yards downfield, but the officials “let them play” and the timing was thrown off, meaning the ball got farther downfield than Coates did. Seems like PI to me, but apparently not to the officials that day, at least for PIT.
  • 1:24—unflagged holding by Ramon Foster, completion to DWill. Ben would possibly be dead now. I’m all in favor of that hold, but it should have been flagged.
  • :18—a little shove of A.J. Green after he ran out of bounds by Sean Davis. This wasn’t flagged, and there wasn’t a suggestion it should be, but it was extracurricular, as Green was clearly out of bounds as far as I could see.

Third Quarter

  • 11:43—horse collar tackle called on Javon Hargrave. No ambiguity there.
  • 6:16—Dalton pass to Hill. Offensive holding called. There was also a bit of extracurricular activity after Hill was deflected out of bounds. James Harrison may have had something to do with it…
  • 5:45—Delay of game penalty on CIN
  • 3:57—incomplete to A.J. Green. PI called on Ross Cockrell. He stuck his arm out. Flag…
  • 3:02—Artie Burns gets a PI on his contact with Brandon LaFell. Funny how much it looks like the incompletion in the 2nd quarter to Eli Rogers, except that the ball was overhead rather than short. This sets up Custer’s (or Cameron’s) Last Stand—first and goal at the one-yard line.
  • 2:24—incomplete pass to Uzomah. This was controversial, but unchallenged by Marvin Lewis. Depending on the angle you look at, the receiver’s knee was either down inside the end zone or on the white line. It was 2nd and goal. Had they punched it in on 3rd and goal no one would have said anything, but they didn’t. Therefore the announcers took a good look at it later in the game  and decided Lewis should have challenged. They felt it was a TD. Whether there was sufficient evidence to overturn the call on the field is interesting but moot.
  • 1:36—Domata Peko grabs DWill’s facemask on a run. No flag.
  • 1:27—Bengals offsides penalty. They claimed it was Pouncey moving the ball which caused them to be offsides, but the officials didn’t see it that way. However, the announcers showed Pouncey moving, so it looks like he got away with one.
  • 1:08—Dre Kirkpatrick takes DWill down. By wrapping his arms around his neck. I don’t get how using a guy’s head to tackle him isn’t a penalty if grabbing the back of his jersey neck is. Just sayin’…

Fourth Quarter

  • 12:16—pass to AB on sideline ruled a catch. The DBs thought he was out of bounds, but the official was a few feet away. Brown gets the first foot down about a foot inside and drags the other.
  • 6:59—this non-PI call for AB was pretty bad. Karlos Dansby shoved AB to the ground in the end zone, according to the announcers, long before the ball was coming. The official is standing literally 3 feet away as AB lies face-down in the turf. This raises several questions. First of all, what is a linebacker doing covering AB? Second of all, why is it okay for him to shove the intended receiver to the ground? And finally, as has been speculated already, does AB’s increasingly poor relationship with the referees have anything to do with him being unable to get a PI call? If so, perhaps he should shut his mouth and start sending flowers…
  • 6:48—a good second or two after Dalton gets off a pass, Stephon Tuitt drills Andy Dalton, and Dalton’s helmet comes off. The announcer first says “you’re not supposed to hit the quarterback in the head” but then notes that Tuitt drilled him in the back. It still probably should have been called as a late hit, and wasn’t.
  • 3:34—Dalton pass to Bernard, runs it in for TD. James Harrison was being held like nobody’s business, but as usual the refs don’t make it their business either…
  • 3:16—incomplete to AB. He was wearing Adam Jones. The announcers raved about how it was perfect coverage. It helps when you knock the receiver onto his backside. Amazing how often he misses the ball…
  • 2:00—this is probably the most controversial call in the game. Tyler Boyd caught the ball, and as he was falling to the ground James Harrison knocked it loose. Robert Golden recovered it and headed upfield. The question is, was Boyd’s knee down before the ball was popped out, or after? Dean Blandino, head of officiating for the NFL, actually put up a video explaining the result of the review (call on the field stands.) The issue was that whichever was it was called on the field was likely to stand, because there weren’t good enough camera angles to say for sure what was happening during Boyd’s fall. (This is despite the statements by the announcers that his right knee was definitely down, and the play was coming back.) If you just look at the play in real time (as the official who made the call was doing) it definitely looks like a forced fumble/recovery. Whether it actually was or not, I suppose we’ll never know.
  • :14—delay of game on PIT. This was deliberate.

Remind me never to do this again. It took forever, mainly because I was trying very hard to actually be fair.

It was interesting, though. The QB hits offset, I suppose you could say, although I think there was another one on Ben that I couldn’t see at all. The refs weren’t calling helmet hits on other guys, apparently. The PIs definitely favored the Bengals. The remaining non-calls went both ways, although my impression was the Bengals got the better deal.

It’s easy to say there are two calls which changed the course of the game, both in the Steelers’ favor—the non-TD and the fumble near the end of the game which gave the ball back to the Steelers. The non-TD call took four points off the board for the Bengals. However, their coaching staff had the opportunity to challenge it but didn’t, so it’s hard to feel too sorry for them. The Boyd fumble that perhaps wasn’t is less clear. Maybe the Bengals would have driven down the rest of the field for a touchdown, but save for the blown coverage on Bernard, the Steelers D had kept the Bengals out of the endzone all day.

The non-called PIs were also game-changers that killed drives in most cases. You can never know how things might have come out differently, as just noted in re the fumble question, but there’s a reasonable chance one of them might have led to a touchdown instead of a punt.

All in all, I would say the officiating wasn’t very good. But I certainly wouldn’t say it clearly favored the Steelers over the Bengals, or vice versa. But feel free to analyze my findings and tell me differently.


  • There seems to be more griping throughout the league than typical so far this season about officiating. Part of that I think is the focus on player safety rules changes causing much more focus to be put on the refs. That doesn’t take away how I feel the game was officiated. I thought they missed way too much to be considered a good job. Hopefully the refs will settle down and do a better job as the season continues.


    • cold_old_steelers_fan

      For an organization focused on player safety, an awful lot of dangerous hits are not getting flagged. Hopefully there will be letters and fines.


  • cold_old_steelers_fan

    On the old site, I posted the five missed calls I had thought were most egregious but I forgot about Tuitt drilling Dalton in the back on a late hit.

    This game represented one of the poorest, though not overly biased, officiated games I have seen in the NFL. The only bias was the Steelers ability to overcome the bad calls due to their timing, nature and moral superiority (I might be wearing black and gold glasses when I say that last part).

    This is one of the issues that turns me off the NFL. I nearly quit watching in the past (but I was weak) and it will probably be the wheat based, agricultural by-product that puts the dromedary on permanent compensation.


  • Well, I’ll give the refs some credit that no one was killed or seriously injured, even though Ol’ Jupiter Pluvius has something to do with that. It’s harder to get the traction you need for a head start to launch yourself in a downpour, and your cleats won’t get caught in the turf so there are fewer broken ankles, etc;

    As far as “the knee was down,” people are ignoring the fact that a play is NOT automatically over when the knee is down. Let me explain in a way that even those CincyJungle folks can understand.

    If you have the football and you slip and fall and no one touches you, you can get up and keep running. The play is not over until someone touches you when you are on the ground. Got that? Of course. We’ve all seen that.

    The other side of that coin is that you can be flat on the ground, holding the ball in the air, and if a defender swats the ball out of your hand without anyone touching you, it’s a fumble. After all, if no one touched you, the play is still alive and you can get up and run.

    So, according to the rule, if Deebo hit the ball first and the ball began moving before he touched Boyd’s body, the fumble technically began while the play was still alive, whether or not Boyd’s knee was down.

    The ruling on the field stands.


  • Toronto Steeler Fan

    Props for use of the word “wroth” in an article about football 🙂


  • “I don’t get how using a guy’s head to tackle him isn’t a penalty if grabbing the back of his jersey neck is. Just sayin’…”

    I thought the EXACT SAME THING.


  • On Cockrell’s pi the WR was tugging the back of his jersey, which is likely why he stuck his arm out.
    And about 4-5 times way oob the Bungals defenders were rag dolling D Will, by rolling him over an extra time. Sort of reminiscent to a tackle like ast season by a Bengal.


  • Pingback: Refereeing Part 2: Calculating the Cost in the Steelers/Bengals Game | Going Deep:

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