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Kingerski: Why Penguins Coach’s Challenges Succeed but Steelers Fail

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This article originally appeared on Pittsburgh Hockey Now.

Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has never had a losing record. In 11 seasons, the Steelers head coach has consistently won everything, except coach’s challenges. Tomlin’s abysmal record with coach’s challenges has never been more apparent than his 0-for-10 record challenges since January, 2017. Across the river, Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan has won three straight challenges and four this season.

It’s about process. The Penguins have one. Apparently, the Steelers do not.

The Penguins have a set of dedicated eyes in the sky which belong to Andy Saucier.

“Sauce is an all-star,” said Sullivan on Dec. 15 after yet another successful challenge which denied the Penguins’ opponent a goal.

Last Sunday, Tomlin refused to challenge an incomplete pass which likely would have been overturned to a turnover in the Steelers favor. Tomlin reasoned, “(the officials) were definitive about it and we moved on.”

Oh, well if the stripes say so. By all means, trust the same referees which took the ball from the Steelers via erroneous pass interference calls after the Steelers defended crucial fourth down attempts, or as Tomlin put it, “won the situation.”

Sure, trust those guys.

NFL games have between 12 to 20 cameras which are able to show blades of grass bend beneath tapping toes and slightly deflected footballs which would otherwise negate pass interference, all in high definition and super slow motion.

And yet Mike Tomlin’s gut is more than an arbiter weighing input from specialists. Tomlin’s gut seemingly is the Steelers replay team.

“(Saucier) is terrific at breaking down those situations because we don’t get a good enough look on the bench,” said Sullivan. “We sat as a coaching staff before the season started and we defined a criteria on what we’re going to challenge and what we’re not.”

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“And so we try to define a criteria as clearly as we can. And now everybody has a role and a responsibility,” Sullivan continued. Some of those responsibilities fall on Penguins goaltending coach Mike Buckley who weighs in on goaltender interference. Other challenges such as offside fall on Saucier to quickly review tape and communicate with the coaches and Sullivan.

But Mike Tomlin’s wishful thinking and a jumbotron are OK, too, right?

Baseball teams have numerous monitors each with numerous angles set up in the clubhouse for replays. Challenges are not left to the whims or hopes from the bench. As Sullivan admitted, the view from the bench and certainly the sidelines sometimes over 50 yards away isn’t good enough.

Goaltending interference is every bit as confusing or nebulous as the NFL catch rule(s), so each sport has its potential reviews without a clear answer, but the Penguins have managed to win four of their last six challenges, regardless.

The Penguins have won playoff games because they’ve taken opponents’ goals off the board. It is easier to wonder if Tomlin were just 1-4 instead of 0-5 this season if the Steelers would be resting starters, Sunday instead of playing and hoping for their playoff lives.

“I just think (Saucier) is an all-star,” repeated Sullivan. And the have Penguins reaped the rewards in big moments and small. Despite not having the tens of millions of dollars which flows through NFL teams at their disposal, the Penguins not only have a system in place but a video replay setup, too.

And imagine, Mike Sullivan’s success rate is only in the middle pack in the NHL. Somehow, NHL teams with far fewer cameras and grainy looks at the play are overturning calls and setting right the games. Conversely, the Steelers rely on emotion and perception from 150 feet away, which is just not good enough.

Nor is taking the officials word for it.

That is why the Penguins challenges have been successful, and the Steelers are 0-5 this season and 0-10 over the past 23 months.

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