Earlier in the week, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was asked about what a coach can do to help wide receivers with dropped passes. He fired back a quick quip that they can catch balls or get replaced.
He said this before giving a much more elaborate and nuanced answer, but of course this is the soundbite that most people chose to jump on, and went on to accuse Tomlin of using empty rhetoric, arguing that they have nobody to replace the players who are dropping passes with in the first place.
It got to the point where offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner was asked to reference that remark—specifically asked, “aren’t you kind of limited in what you have?”—as part of a broader question about the drop issue.
“I really like the group. I think we all know it is a skillful group, capable of making a lot of plays”, Fichtner said, via transcript. “I do think somewhere lost in this is a little bit of concentration because they are all skillful enough to make magnificent catches. I think we talk about does he catch it because of hand placement or his eyes? He didn’t follow it in, or he has just dropped balls that he has never dropped before out of not concentrating”.
“I believe it is somewhere in between. It’s concentration probably more drops than any. That means focus”, he went on to say, and earlier referenced the fact that they have had some unusual circumstances in their work week recently. “That means preparedness”.
“I hate to use the idea that Ben [Roethlisberger] in these shorter weeks hasn’t practiced, but they do catch balls. They catch balls from jugs”, the offensive coordinator continued. “They work on their fundamentals daily, but there is something within maybe getting more balls and getting back to basic practice schedules where Ben can throw to those receivers. I’m looking forward to that today”.
Could these things possibly be a factor? Sure. Do they justify the sorts of drops that we have seen over the past couple of weeks? Of course not. But how do you correct concentration drops? It’s not a matter of skill, but rather of focus, and that’s something more rooted in the individual that can’t necessarily be trained or coached.
I would not expect to see any immediate and obvious changes when the Steelers take the field in Buffalo. However, if we do continue to see certain players putting catchable balls on the ground for a third straight game, firmly establishing a pattern, that is when we might see snap counts and targets start to swing to other players.