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Breakfast with Benz

Tim Benz: Steelers' Mike Tomlin might have full fan support on 1 stance

| Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018, 6:24 a.m.
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin during the Browns game in the third quarter Sunday, Sept. 9, 2018 at Firstenergy Stadium Cleveland Ohio.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin during the Browns game in the third quarter Sunday, Sept. 9, 2018 at Firstenergy Stadium Cleveland Ohio.

When you simply mention the name “Mike Tomlin” to Pittsburgh Steelers fans, the opinions fly.

Some defend him against the torrent of criticism he receives for failing to win a Super Bowl since 2008 despite a wealth of talent. Others wish he would’ve been fired the day after the Super Bowl XLIII victory parade.

But I can’t imagine a single Steelers fan who disagreed an iota when Tomlin popped off about the state of officiating in the NFL.

“It’s a joke. We’ve got to get better as a National Football League,” Tomlin said after his team beat Atlanta. “These penalties are costing people games and jobs. We’ve got to get them correct. So I’m (ticked) about it.”

I bet 99 percent of Pittsburgh football fans agree with that. I’d venture to guess that there are many in other NFL towns saying “Amen to that” as well.

Tomlin has been much more open about criticizing officials this year. He should. It’s awful. It’s random. It’s inconsistent. Replay is backfiring. The referees are often unclear in their explanation and administering of penalties. And, in general, there is just too much of an influence and presence from the zebras from game to game.

Tomlin said on Tuesday that he doesn’t expect to receive a fine from the league. That could be because he’s already been told he won’t be getting one. Perhaps that news also came with a stern warning about backing off his recent criticism, which is why he was so tight-lipped about following up during his weekly press conference.

“I said what I said after the game,” Tomlin reiterated on Tuesday. “I meant it. But I’m choosing to move on.”

Gene Steratore was on WDVE Tuesday morning. He’s the former NFL ref from Western Pennsylvania who is now a network officiating analyst.

In one thought, he summed up everything that is wrong with the mentality of NFL officials.

They are no longer stewards of the game, entrusted to use their judgement to best administer the rules. Rather, they are intimidated, Pavlovian robots seeking approval from their bosses with every flag.

Steratore told the DVE Morning Show hosts that it would be a good idea for the league to leak how many refs were downgraded each week, so that officials knew what penalties the NFL wants them to call.

Let me make that clear.

Steratore says the NFL should make officiating demerits known based on what it wants the refs to call. Don’t publicly downgrade them for improper calls that were made or missed. Rather, shame them for not making calls when the opportunity may arise.

In other words, Steratore actually thinks it’s proper game management to have the refs motivated to drop flags on calls they may not be inclined to make.

The hypothetical example he mentioned was illegal helmet contact.

“The biggest thing I would want to know is how many officials were downgraded or shown that they made a mistake for not calling that,” Steratore said. “Because then you find out, this is where they want us to go.

“That would be a quiet way for the league and the officiating department to tell their officials ‘Tick this up.’ ”

Translation: The league should surreptitiously and subliminally prod the officials to avoid making judgments based on what their eyes are telling them is legal or not. Instead, they should make judgments based on what their brains are telling them will earn points from their supervisors.

That’s twisted. Especially since my guess is no ref has ever gotten bonus point for keeping a flag in his pocket on a 50-50 roughing-the-passer penalty. But based on that skewed way of thinking, there’s motivation for the officials to drop a flag on a call that may be more like 30-70.

Kinda like T.J. Watt’s penalty Sunday. Or Jon Bostic’s.

Officials aren’t supposed to adjudicate with spontaneous judgment compromised by feeling as if they are supposed to be carrying out an agenda. Their role shouldn’t be to help the NFL lawyers pander toward a public relations campaign centered around player safety.

My guess is that’s why Tomlin is mad. He’s not banging his head against the wall in these competition committee meetings for hours on end just to witness the specificity of their rules blurred by a ref who wants to make sure he earns a gold star.

There’s nothing like getting praise for flagging a damaging 15-yard call on a play where no damage was going to be done to the athlete in question.

The emphasis on roughing the quarterbacks was supposed to prevent passers from being picked and driven to the ground. It wasn’t to draw flags for the love taps we’ve seen in the name of the rule.

Actually, come to think of it, I don’t agree with Tomlin at all. It’s not a joke. Because none of us are laughing.

Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at tbenz@tribweb.com or via Twitter @TimBenzPGH. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.

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