- Associated Press - Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Pittsburgh Steelers made officials a fixture at practice during training camp, hoping their presence would help cut down on the kind of momentum-sapping penalties that cost them in 2014.

So far, it has worked brilliantly.

The Steelers (8-5) are the NFL’s least-penalized team this season, averaging 5.6 flags per game. That’s down from 2014 when they averaged 6.4 every time out, only good enough for 13th. Coach Mike Tomlin thinks his players seeing guys in black-and-white stripes so frequently over the summer has helped.

“I think that has aided us in terms of practicing with good habits in the right way that’s going to allow us to keep the penalties down,” Tomlin said. “We’re not perfect, we are going to be penalized, we have been penalized. Largely, I would like us to be less penalized than those we compete against.”

He’s right. Pittsburgh’s opponents have been flagged 89 times this season, compared to just 73 enforced against the Steelers. What’s more impressive is the way Pittsburgh has been able to play cleanly while also playing more aggressively, particularly on defense. Pittsburgh has already topped its 2014 totals for sacks and interceptions with three weeks to go in the season.

“We try to be very fundamental in our techniques and continue to teach and preach that daily, even at this time of the year,” Tomlin said. “We have a young group in a lot of ways and we’re never going to turn the page from that, in terms of growing and developing from a technical standpoint, hand usage, etcetera.”


HIGH SCHOOL DAYS: High school reunions don’t usually take place on an NFL field, yet that’s precisely what will occur Sunday when the Chiefs face the Ravens in Baltimore.

Ravens cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Shareece Wright will no doubt seek out Kansas City safety Daniel Sorensen, because all three played for Colton High in southern California.

“It’s pretty cool,” Smith said. “Danny Sorensen, he was a young kid when I was at Colton. He was our safety.”

This isn’t the first such reunion of Colton alums this season. Sorensen’s brother, Brad, was the backup to Philip Rivers with the Chargers when San Diego faced Baltimore in November.

“Brad Sorensen was my high school quarterback,” Smith said. “We have maybe five players from our high school in the NFL right now. It’s kind of crazy that Shareece is here, but having Danny come play here, it’s going to be a unique situation.”


PETERSON’S USE: Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson expressed his displeasure after the lopsided loss to Seattle on Dec. 6 about his lack of use, saying the Vikings were “outcoached” as well as “outplayed” by the Seahawks that day. Though the Vikings quickly fell behind in that game, Peterson had only eight carries.

But last week at Arizona, Peterson not only ran the ball 23 times, he caught a 17-yard pass and was used heavily on third downs, taking 82 percent of the offense’s snaps. Pass protection has not been a strength of his, but he picked up several blitzes down the stretch, including on Teddy Bridgewater’s tying touchdown pass to Mike Wallace.

The Vikings lost to the Cardinals by three points, but their offense was as sharp as it’s been in a while.

“When he’s in there, he’s a threat,” coach Mike Zimmer said.

Said Peterson: “Whenever my number is called, like I always say, I’m going to go out there and do job. It’s never the case of, well, can you do it?”


MOVING ON: LeSean McCoy’s done talking about Philadelphia.

After refusing to shake Eagles coach Chip Kelly’s hand, and then standing up the media following a 23-20 loss, the Buffalo Bills running back had no reason to revisit what happened during his homecoming last weekend.

“You lose a game. Obviously, you’re mad and disappointed,” McCoy said Wednesday.

He was in no mood to discuss why he bent down and kissed the Eagles logo on the field before the game.

“Listen, I’m worried about the Redskins,” McCoy said, referring to the Bills’ opponent on Sunday. “The game in Philadelphia’s over.”

The outcome was definitely not what McCoy was looking for in his first return to the City of Brotherly Love since he was abruptly traded to the Bills in March after six seasons with the Eagles. McCoy finished with 74 yards rushing and 35 receiving, but only combined for 30 in the second half.

He also failed to score. McCoy was on the sideline when backup Mike Gillislee got his first career touchdown on a 19-yard run.

That didn’t come anywhere close to what McCoy was anticipating a week earlier, when he wondered whether he might score six or seven times.

The only time McCoy expressed surprise was when informed of a report that he had hung up on Kelly when his former coach attempted to call him last week.

McCoy said no such thing happened. And, McCoy added, he would have actually answered the call.


AP Pro Football Writers Barry Wilner and Dave Campbell, and Sports Writers John Wawrow, Dave Ginsburg and Will Graves contributed to this notebook.


AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

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