The Pittsburgh Steelers’ last game against the Kansas City Chiefs was an interesting one when it came to the failure of receivers to secure passes and how to classify them as drops. Out of the four plays that I’ll review above, the only one that one can say, based on the available evidence, is definitively a dropped pass is the first one, but all of the other three also merit discussion, and may be drops as well.
The first was a big one, coming in the first quarter on second and long at the Steelers’ own 20. Mason Rudolph had Xavier Grimble wide open down the middle of the field. The ball was a bit high and ahead of the target, but this should have been a relatively easy chain-mover, a play he has to make, and doesn’t instill any confidence in him that he can be an adequate number two. He did come up with the catch on a similar play later in the game, however.
The second play we’ll look at came on the next snap, when Rudolph looked to Ben Roethlisberger’s favorite target, JuJu Smith-Schuster, to try to convert the third down. Here it’s important to note that the receiver slips, tangled with the defensive back, coming out of his break and had to try to make a quick adjustment to field the ball. By appearances, the pass does clang off his chest without a clear view of the defensive back getting a finger on it, so this may well be a drop as well.
About 20 minutes into the game, Rudolph had a great scrambling play that ended with him launching a pass into the end zone to Eli Rogers, who was in the middle of a couple of defenders. Admittedly, the pass could have been delivered with more velocity. If the ball arrived before the defender, then it only did so by a split second and may not have been enough to allow Rogers to make the catch anyway.
The last play we’ll look at was also the Steelers’ last of the game. Rather than playing it safe on third down with a 10-point lead, Devlin Hodges threw out of 13 personnel, Johnny Holton the only wide receiver on the field.
On this occasion, it does look as though the ball arrives before the defender, but I could argue that the defender is what prevents him from securing the pass firmly and allows it to slip out of the wide receiver’s grasp. One could still say that he should have been able to secure the pass anyway.
Since I started doing this last season, this may be the most complicated week I’ve had yet to deal with in trying to assign what’s a drop and what is not. Grimble’s certainly is. Perhaps the majority of the others are as well. But it’s not clear-cut.