One of the stories for the Pittsburgh Steelers this week is about ball security—specifically, securing the ball before possession. The team had half a dozen or more drops against the Baltimore Ravens, between Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, Eric Ebron, and JuJu Smith-Schuster, in addition to passes that should have been caught even if they were not explicitly drops—which is subjective, anyway.
Late last week, for example, offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner said that “if you get a chance to touch it, it should be a catch”. He recalled a conversation with former Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward in which he had a ball bounce off of his foot. He told Ward as he came to the sideline that that was a drop. “’Yes, it is. It hit me’”, the receiver responded.
While that might be a bit extreme in terms of standards—surely not every ball that comes in contact with a receiver’s body that isn’t caught is a catchable pass, obviously—but it expresses the important sentiment that the standards are very high in terms of what the expectations are for receivers when the ball is thrown in their direction.
“I really don’t try to seek comfort in the definition of it”, head coach Mike Tomlin said yesterday in discussing drops and what a drop is. “If we’re talking about receivers catching or not catching the football, it’s a problem. The catching of the ball needs to be a non-discussion when we talk about those that do it for a living at this level”.
Generally, the Steelers are not one of the worst offenders in the league in terms of dropping passes. Wednesday’s game against the Ravens remains closer to an aberration to the norm, for sure, but as goes without saying, things need to be much better the next time they’re on the field.
Arguably, Johnson is the most concerning case, not the least of which reason being that he is their most high-volume target. A lot of balls come his way, including a lot of crucial situational balls. He dropped a pass in the red zone and another on a third down in their last game.
But with all the talk about how talented this group is, they also have to make the ‘difficult’ catches, even if failure to do so might not necessarily be a drop. Sure, they have collectively come up with some highlight-reel plays over the course of the year, but those have to be something close to routine for a championship offense.
Basically, as Tomlin said, catching the football shouldn’t even be a part of the discussion when it comes to receivers. If they have a chance to catch the ball, they need to come down with it. That’s their job. It’s the function they serve in the unit. Task number one. No exceptions.