"What's going on in the return game from a penalty standpoint is disturbing. The multiple offenders or egregious offenders are going to be watching as opposed to playing as soon as we get a few options."
By "options," Tomlin was meant players who will be coming back from injuries. He can even choose from players currently on the practice squad.
The five penalties Sunday night cost the Steelers 115 yards in field position, and none of the penalties appeared to have helped the runner. The costliest penalty was a hold by DeMarcus Van Dyke early in the second quarter that negated an Antonio Brown return to the Cincinnati 44. Instead, the ball was placed 43 yards back at the Pittsburgh 13.
"We believe we have some dynamic return men," Tomlin said of Brown and Chris Rainey. "Penalties negated that effort."
After committing one penalty on special teams in the first two games, the Steelers have since committed a dozen. Van Dyke is the most "egregious offender" with four. Stevenson Sylvester has two. Seven others – including one that wasn't assigned – were blamed on six other individuals.
So apparently the players on the hot seat are Van Dyke and Sylvester.
What can Tomlin do?
"You can take the helmet off of them and have them watch," he said. "That's what we intend to do if they don't improve in that area. They're egregious offenders and repeat offenders."
Tomlin had discussed his goal for the return game with the team before the game. He wanted to see improvement there, in the running game, and third-down defense. And he got just about everything for which he had asked.
The Steelers improved their 3.0 run game with a 5.8 performance, their 49.2 defensive third-down percentage with a 38 percent rate, and their 27.0 kickoff return average with a 30.5 performance against the Bengals.
The only miss was from the 8.4 punt-return unit, which averaged only 3.3 per return in Cincinnati thanks to penalties.
In the key NFL offensive statistical rankings, the Steelers are 11th in yards per game, 17th points per game, 6th passing yards per game, and 32nd in per-carry average.
Defensively, the Steelers are 2nd in yards per game, 12th iu points per game, 19th in per-carry rushing, and 2nd in pass yards per game (19th in passer rating, 24th in sacks).