The Pittsburgh Steelers were last season's poster children for the NFL's increased policing of big hits. As the league's most physical defense, Pittsburgh players were getting fined or suffered questionable flags regularly during their run to Super Bowl XLV.
On Wednesday, NFL vice president Ray Anderson said in a conference call that the league will be even more stern in disciplining players next season, especially repeat offenders. That is not good news for Pittsburgh.
But will the Steelers soften their stance? Pittsburgh's biggest strength is its physicality and aggressiveness. It's a major part of the team's identity and storied history.
The Steelers led the league in run defense by a wide margin last season and intimidated quarterbacks with an NFL-best 48 sacks. But according to Anderson, many of those big hits that resulted in fines and personal fouls could lead to suspensions in 2011, which would hurt Pittsburgh in subsequent games.
The Steelers were not shy about venting their frustration. In February they seemed to enjoy using the league's biggest platform -- the Super Bowl -- to call out the NFL. Linebacker James Harrison, last season's most-fined player, suggested the league provide pillows on the field for players he tackled. Harrison's teammates joined in the fray throughout Super Bowl week, complaining how the league has softened.
Unless the Steelers themselves decide to play softer, we could be heading for another collision course. It's hard to change a team's identity overnight. So expect more controversy, fines and verbal jousting between Pittsburgh and the NFL in 2011.