I noticed, in the realtime watching of the game, the amount of pop-up balls that were there for the taking for the Ravens defense. Throughout the game, not just in the early going, Rothlisberger passes were bouncing off receivers and into the air--only to fall unfettered to the ground. I began to wonder if we would benefit from tip drills in practice, because the players didn't seem to be anticipating these balls and were slow to react. I have pulled out frames from each of these 7--yes, seven--instances. Can you imagine what the result would have been had we intercepted Rothlisberger all of these times? Let's take a look at the opportunities.
The first tip came on the first Pittsburgh pass of the game in the 1st quarter. Steeler receiver Bryant could not adjust to the Rothlisberger pass and the ball went high and far into the night air, but not far enough for Will Hill, who is at the rightmost edge of the frame. (The ball is floating at the 22 and 1/2 yard line--I forwarded this so that Hill could be seen.) This one I deemed not 'catchable.'
The next tip came on the next Pitt possession, same M.O. This time Rothlisberger's target was Antonio Brown, who couldn't rise to the occasion, and the ball ricocheted in the direction of S Stewart. This is the kind of tip that some teams live off of and are infinitely aware of. Not us, not on this night.
Tip number 3 was in the second quarter, another attempt towards Brown. From the frame you can tell that it looked like a bread basket gift for linebacker Smith (#51), but he could not reel it in. It was at this point that I took notice and felt that there was a trend happening.
Next, in the third quarter, Ravens backer Moseley was pursuing with such fervor that he appeared to ignore the ball. Yet, it was not over....
THE VERY NEXT PLAY brought another tip--this was after a Pitt timeout, perhaps Spagnuolo might have told the players to be ready for tipped passes (his recent mic'ed up turn on Ravens Wired suggests he might have)--and it happened right away. This time Rothlisberger's pass was underthrown and Dominique Franks had perfect reception form....and dropped it. In watching the replay, I thought, "This could be the last significant play of his career."
Finally, in the fourth quarter, Steeler Dri Archer had one bounce off of his rolling reception effort high enough for a Will Hill redemption. Again, perhaps this was too much of a surprise--our focus seems to have been on tackling, not ballhawking. I made this an enlarged version so that you can take in how good of an opportunity this was.
While that is all for the passes, the onside kick brought the final, exasperating tipped ball opportunity. I have never played in front of 70,000 people, on television in front of maybe 100 times more, with a high profile/reward job on the line, so I do not know the pressures. Even still, it is hard to imagine why getting the ball appeared to not be in the forefront of the mind of Baltimore's Jeremy Miles. It was the perfect onside opp, and if you watch it, his attention was not on the ball but forward. The ball literally surprised him. Had we gotten this and scored, incredibly, it's only a 6 point game.
What do you think? Could we benefit from a little practice time attention to tip drills and free ball awareness? Should we adjust our mindsets to anticipate balls coming free on certain types of plays, like high passes? Please feel free to comment below or in the Baltimore Sun forum. And remember, a turn of the tide is a few tips away.