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Steelers DBs adjust to less contact

PITTSBURGH -- Mike Mitchell does not shy away from voicing his opinion any more than he does leveling a wide receiver who has the temerity to catch a pass in his vicinity.

But the Pittsburgh Steelers free safety took as diplomatic a route as possible when asked about the flurry of flags the NFL’s emphasis on calling pass interference and illegal contact has produced in the preseason.

“I thought we would get more offensive calls but I don’t have any negative opinions, positive opinions,” Mitchell said. “I just play the game the way I’m supposed to.”

The game has become increasingly harder to play for defensive backs with the league trying to minimize the amount of shoving and grabbing that takes place beyond the 5-yard zone in which contact is allowed.

Pass interference and illegal contact penalties called on defensive backs are up across the board, and the Steelers were flagged six times for those penalties in a 31-21 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday night.

The conventional thinking is that both infractions are being rigorously enforced in the preseason so players can adjust to the point of emphasis in the regular season. Whether penalties for illegal contact and pass interference will subside once the games start counting remains to be seen.

The reality is that is has become even harder to play defensive back, and cornerback in particular, as William Gay found out in Philadelphia.

Gay was flagged twice for defensive holding in Philadelphia though the eighth-year veteran did not grouse about one of the NFL’s point of emphasis two days after the loss to the Eagles.

“Flags have been thrown since the game started so we just try to work on our skills and get better for the season,” Gay said. “The refs have a job. We have a job.”

Included in the point of emphasis on passing plays is watching for wide receiver who push off to gain an advantage. But if the Steelers’ first three preseason games are any indication the bulk of the calls for illegal contact have been made against defensive backs.

“They’re saying we’re going to have to adjust our game, kind of like the hitting up high, but it’s just so hard to do," Mitchell said. “Someone pushes you, you usually pull them but if you’re calling it every time you pull but you’re not calling it every time you push it’s going to be hard. It’s an offensive league, that’s kind of what they want. We just all have to adjust our games to play accordingly.”