The NFL’s officiating staff completely lost control of two of the three Bengals-Steelers matchups last season and postseason, but now they’re on high alert heading into the first matchup between Pittsburgh and Cincinnati since the AFC Wild Card game.
Consider me skeptical, but it’s nice to see the NFL taking precautionary measures prior to this week’s matchup.
In the teams’ two most recent matchups, more than $200,000 in fines were divvied out and Vontaze Burfict received an unprecedented three-game suspension to cap things off. In 2015 alone, both teams suffered countless injuries to key players, including Andy Dalton, Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, Giovani Bernard, Antonio Brown and many others while playing each other.
Under head official John Parry, officials quickly lost control in the second and third matchups between these two teams last season, and as a result, tensions between players — and even coaches — boiled over the top. Multiple coaches committed infractions, while several penalties went unpunished, including what should’ve been unsportsmanlike conduct calls on both teams. We’ve gotten into the fallout of the Bengals-Steelers Wild Card game enough, so there’s no need to elaborate.
That national narratives highlight the end of the Wild Card game as when officials lost control, however, that is laughable. Officials knew well in advance that the two most recent regular season matchups between Cincinnati and Pittsburgh would be tense, yet they hardly did anything to ease tensions between the teams or take control of the game.
Enter Dean Blandino.
The NFL’s senior vice president of officiating told ESPN’s Adam Caplan officials will be on alert heading into the clash between the two AFC North rivals.
"Before every game we provide the crew with a scouting report [along with video clips] for the two teams,” said Blandino, per ESPN’s Katherine Terrell. “If there is a history between two teams, or players, that could lead to issues like we had last year then we include it in the report. The issues that came up last year will be covered with the crew for this game. All crews are directed to set the tone early in games so the players understand where the line is, and that should be consistent for all games, but just based on the history there will be a heightened awareness for this one."
Blandino’s statement is a bit redundant, as most officials are surely aware of rivalries between teams and circumstances heading into each matchup they officiate. If anything, this statement invites the theory that officials aren’t normally researched on or prepared for certain matchups between bitter rivals. Hopefully Blandino’s statement is just a reiteration that every official receives the proper information before each and every game.
John Parry, the head referee for the second and third matchups between these two teams last season, will not be in Pittsburgh during this week’s upcoming game. Instead, Pete Morelli, the 2014 Art McNally award-winner, will take charge. Morelli, like every official, was responsible for some very questionable calls last season, including an error in which he forgot to stop the clock in the game between the Steelers and Chargers, costing Pittsburgh 18 seconds. That said, as long as he can take control of the game and set the tone with a no-nonsense policy, both teams should be better off.