Missed tackles and drops have a lot in common, though the former has become far more common. In either case, they are most noticed when their occurrence impacts a big play. For the latter, it is typically allowing one to occur. As for the former—it will prevent one from happening altogether.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have been one of the more sure-handed teams over the years, with the exception of Sammie Coates of course, and Martavis Bryant’s bouts. While not all of their targets are renowned for their soft hands, they do well enough as a group that it’s rarely a concern.
I want to highlight three plays from the Baltimore Ravens game on Sunday, but I only consider one of them to be a drop, which will be highlighted second below. Two of them involve JuJu Smith-Schuster, who does need to do a better job of securing the football on first contact.
If you follow the Steelers Depot account on Twitter, you no doubt saw Dave Bryan highlight this third-and-seven play in the end zone, a ball that Smith-Schuster had in his hands—and against his helmet—before Brandon Carr punched it out.
I personally do not consider this a dropped pass because I believe Carr was in the position to make the same play even if the wide receiver were not forced to attempt to double catch the football, so I believe the outcome would have been the same regardless.
However, had he been able to get both hands on it on first contact with a strong grip, he certainly would have stood a much better chance of allowing the ball to survive a strong punch from the veteran cornerback. I wouldn’t object to others considering this a drop, but I’m personally not that harsh. I still note the play in my charting as a significant play, but not explicitly a drop.
There’s no excuse to save Smith-Schuster from this play later in the same quarter, however. On second and four, Ben Roethlisberger looked his way on about a 10-yard pass. Because he was able to get both hands on the ball in clear fashion, this still goes down as a drop, even if the degree of difficulty of the play was somewhat high.
Now, I hope I don’t have to explain why this pass is not a drop, but I want to talk about it anyway because it was a spectacular effort from James Conner.
Let’s first acknowledge that this could have been a big play if Roethlisberger had thrown a proper ball. The fact that Conner nearly made the catch anyway is remarkable. He reached behind him, nearly in the trailing linebacker’s face, to pop the ball gently up, but that got C.J. Mosley’s attention. He proceeded to bat the ball up himself, putting it out of harm’s way.