NFL rules analyst Gene Steratore on taunting penalty, other controversies from Steelers vs. Bears

Former NFL official and CBS rules analyst Gene Steratore made his weekly appearance on WDVE on Tuesday morning and addressed the many rules debates that took place during the Steelers’ controversial 29-27 win over the Chicago Bears.

The most hotly contested of many calls — or non-calls — was the Cassius Marsh taunting penalty after a third-down sack of Ben Roethlisberger with only three minutes, 40 seconds remaining.

The penalty allowed a drive that would’ve ended in a punt to continue. It resulted in a 52-yard Chris Boswell field goal to give the Steelers a 26-20 lead.

After the sack, the ex-Steelers linebacker did a spin-kick in the air and then stared at the Steelers bench. The kick was no more or less egregious than any of T.J. Watt’s post-sack kick celebrations. And the staredown — from a healthy distance on the field — didn’t appear to be accompanied by any crass gestures or appalling trash talk.

Referee Tony Corrente said after the game that his decision to throw the flag was about Marsh making his way toward the Steelers bench with a “posture in such a way” that he felt a penalty was appropriate.

“To me, that’s not the flavor of what the rule was intended to be. But by the letter, it is what it is,” Steratore said. “By the letter of the law, it is an unsporting behavior directed toward an opponent. … The distance (from the opposing players or bench) evidently is not relevant.”

Steratore seemed to place the onus for complaints at the feet of the league office. The crackdown on taunting has been so strictly emphasized and enforced, he suggested, that on-field officials don’t let what they may perceive to be minor violations slide.

“They put an emphasis on it,” Steratore said. “It appears to me (on-field officials) are being told there is absolutely zero tolerance. And (NFL rules makers) want these things called. Do I think it is great for the game? No, I don’t. This game gets too emotional.

“You get your grades in the middle of the week, and they are telling you ‘that is a correct call’ for taunting. … So if you see it, what are you going to do next week? You know that they graded you correct the previous week. So what are you going to do next Sunday? I’m going to call it.”

Steratore said the NFL needs to clean up the taunting and jaw-jacking, but an appreciation for the emotional element of the game should be considered.

“I don’t like the posturing stuff; the demeaning, degrading behaviors; the physical movements,” Steratore said. “(But) we are in Week 10. This thing cranks up right now. Emotions are emotions, and that’s a hard place to control every bit of your emotion when you are in a collision atmosphere.”

As far as the bump on Marsh applied by Corrente as the referee was throwing the flag, Steratore didn’t have much to say aside from joking that it looked like a hockey “hip check into the boards.”

Steratore was less understanding of the officials stubbing their toe on a low block call that cost the Bears a touchdown in the third quarter.

Down 14-3 in the third quarter, Bears quarterback Justin Fields hit tight end Jimmy Graham on what would have been a 1-yard touchdown. However, guard James Daniels was flagged for an attempted low block against Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt. However, Daniels whiffed on the supposed illegal block and never made contact with Watt.

Steratore said that mistake “jumped off the screen” as a “swing and miss,” claiming “it just didn’t exist.”

Steratore offered these thoughts on some other debates:

• Ray-Ray McCloud’s fumbled punt: “When he starts to pivot and reverse out, he has lost control of (the ball). Trying to squeeze it with his bent arm, that ball is loose and out of his control. From what I saw, he had lost his possession versus his control of that football prior to the knee hitting the ground.”

Marquise Goodwin’s 50-yard catch in the third quarter: Steratore admitted that the definition of a catch “has been a moving target for eight or nine years.” But, he said, like the McCloud fumble, the replay officials were right to allow the play to stand.

“I was fine with both reviews. They got both of those plays right based on how the rules are written today,” Steratore said.

On Watt’s complaints that offensive tackles are being allowed to move before the snap: “He’s right. It’s being abused. A flinch is a flinch. He’s legitimate in that observation. The tackles and interior line are getting a jump. I saw that go throughout the league last week, at least a half a dozen of them. That’s a valid point. They are getting a jump.”

Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or via Twitter. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.

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