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AP Photo/Doug Benc

Opinion: The NFL’s Catch Rule Was Fine Before The Change

After a unanimous 32-0 vote at the NFL Annual League Meeting yesterday, the NFL’s catch rule has changed. The league has attempted to simplify the language for what constitutes a catch, which includes: Control of the ball with two feet or another body part down in bounds, and a “football move” such as extending/lunging with the ball or a third step.


Many fans rejoiced at the rule change, but I am in the minority. I believe the catch rule was fine how it previously was. Eli Manning explained it very well after the Jesse James catch/non-catch controversy in December:


“I know the rules… I think it is clear what a catch is. Especially when you’re going to the ground, you got to control the ball the whole time. You got to have it. If the ball hits the ground, you’re going to the ground, the balls moves or hits the ground and there’s a little loss of contact through the end of the play, it’s gonna be an incompletion.”


Remember, this only became an issue in recent years—it started in 2010, with the Calvin Johson non-catch against the Bears, which I remember vividly because Johnson was on my fantasy team.


From that point, and especially over the last four years—particularly with the Dez Bryant play in the 2014 Divisional Round and then the Jesse James play last December—I think the officials and the media caused the hysteria more than anything.


Super Bowl LII is a perfect example. There were two cases where Eagles touchdown catches were reviewed: Corey Clement’s in the third quarter and Zach Ertz’s at the end of the game.


Clement’s was obviously a missed call in my opinion, which might have made things a bit confusing for some. But then NBC’s Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth basically created a controversy out of thin-air for the Ertz catch, as it was clearly a touchdown. Ertz caught a slant at the five-yard line and took steps before lunging into the end zone. Simple. It was a clear catch.


Basically, as Eli Manning was saying, you can just tell what is a catch and what isn’t a catch. A lot of people love controversy and drama, and determining what a catch was became another topic for the terrible sports debate shows.


Meanwhile, the new catch rule presents some issues that might not be realized until they actually occur in games.


One, fumbles might be confusing now. On a play where a receiver might not really get control of the ball—but under the new catch rule it is determined he does—a fumble might be called for what previously would have been ruled an incomplete pass.


With the new rule, a Dez Bryant-like play (but if there are no defenders around) where a guy is falling forward and has the ball pop out near the goal line could have the ball roll out of bounds and for a touchback—all without being touched. To me, having to complete the “process of the catch” is a lot better than that.


Finally, I have no problem with a new rule helping defenses, but I’m not sure people realize this is what the new catch rule might do. With the requirements for a catch being reduced, defenders will be able to take advantage by popping the ball out for fumbles. What used to be a simple incompletion could now often become a turnover that changes games.


Maybe I’m against the change in the catch rule because I still don’t understand some of what the NFL is doing with other rules—like moving the extra point back, which I think was a terrible decision. I just think it should be obvious what a catch is.


As Raiders head coach Jon Gruden has made clear over the years during his time on Monday Night Football, super-slow-mo instant replay has led to people analyzing plays too closely; it sometimes complicates things when you look at plays in slow motion.


Gruden made a suggestion at yesterday’s coaches’ breakfast at the NFL Annual League Meeting: Get rid of instant replay entirely and let the officials determine the calls are in real time. Gruden, who also said yesterday that he’s played a lot of his catch in his day and—like Eli Manning—knows what a catch is, wants common sense to take over for a lot of these calls.


The old catch rule was fine, and this new catch rule might just make things worse.


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