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Cory's Corner: The anatomy of a catch

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Cory's Corner: The anatomy of a catch

There are 19 proposed rule changes at the annual Owner’s Meetings in Boca Raton, Fla. this week.

However, the rule that needs the most massaging is curiously off the list. Because officiating director Dean Blandino spent the most time defining what exactly a catch was to owners on Monday.

It’s a simple question, but players, coaches and fans aren’t exactly sure what constitutes a catch anymore.

According to the rules, a catch must satisfy three things:

1. Possession of the ball with two hands.

2. Two feet down.

3. A period of time elapsed when the receiver has to become a runner and is able to protect himself.

The first two are simple. For years, kids in sandlots have been able to determine catches from the top two rules.

However, things completely go out of orbit when you get to the third principle. How much time is supposed to elapse and why does a receiver have to become a runner are two of the popular questions. I understand if the NFL truly wants to protect its defenseless receivers, especially over the middle or on the sideline when they are extending their arms and trying to haul in a pass.

But you cannot make a rule that only asks questions instead of solidifying answers. This rule has written the preface and epilogue in the book “Confusion.” It’s flat-out embarrassing when elite NFL receivers like Calvin Johnson make an improbable touchdown catch — with the defense showing a look of dejection — before being rejected because he didn’t complete the process of the catch. What?

The reason why this rule has looked so bad as of late is because the league has been pass-happy for the last 12 years. The odds of the casual fan being introduced to this bewilderment are pretty good. And if the casual fan cannot grasp what appeared to be a simple catch, imagine the nails on chalkboard feeling that coaches and players have.

Which is why if this rule isn’t trimmed up, it’s going to start making a difference in big games. (The Cowboys still swear that Dez Bryant caught the ball in the 2015 NFC Divisional Playoff even though the tip of the ball was in fact moving). Imagine a Super Bowl that is decided on a last-second no-catch decision that was made by instant replay. How horrible would that be?

In an age of safety concerns, the game really needs to be simplified. How much fun is it for players if amazing diving catches are looked at under the auspices of the NFL rulebook?

The best thing in sports is spontaneity. An amazing catch to win a ballgame is something that cannot be repackaged again. However, after the refs huddle up and decide that the receiver didn’t become a runner, the catch is forgotten and left only to legend.

The players in this league are only going to get bigger, faster and stronger. The ways in which receivers will be able to contort their body will continue to defy physics and perhaps gravity.

Apparently it’s easier to make a convoluted rule than let the players perform at the highest level and allow everyone to actually understand what’s happening.

Bureaucratic brainstorming wins again. 


Cory Jennerjohn is a graduate from UW-Oshkosh and has been in sports media for over 15 years. He was a co-host on "Clubhouse Live" and has also done various radio and TV work as well. He has written for newspapers, magazines and websites. He currently is a columnist for CHTV and also does various podcasts. He recently earned his Masters degree from the University of Iowa. He can be found on Twitter: @Coryjennerjohn

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (8) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Horse's picture

The reason there are refs on the field is because unlike Tecmo and Madden, real football requires judgement calls. That's what #3 is about.

When people disagree with a pass play judgement call, they now blame the catch rule (Both feet down, maintain control even through a transition to trying for YAC) instead of the ref. It's not that tough.

RCPackerFan's picture

The biggest reason why this has been so controversial is because of the Dez Bryant play. I feel like I was one of the few that actually knew at the time that it would have been ruled not a catch. That play was pretty simple to me, Yes he caught the ball, but he didn't complete the process. Meaning after catching the ball he was going to the ground and didn't maintain control. That to me was pretty clear. All he had to do was hold onto the ball and it would have never been overturned.

I think the rule overall is fine, it just needs to be interpreted better or simplified. I think the problem right now is that its being interpreted differently and is being called to inconsistently. There needs to be more common sense that goes with the ruling too. It seems like there is being way to much thought into it. Should be simple.

IMO the rule should be:
If the player is going to the ground when they catch the ball, they have to hang onto the ball through out the process. If the player catches the ball takes 3 or more steps and is going to the ground then it should turn into a fumble if they lose control of the ball. Should be as simple as that.

dobber's picture

" Imagine a Super Bowl that is decided on a last-second no-catch decision that was made by instant replay. How horrible would that be?"

Not at all if it's the rule that has been enforced for years and that everyone has come to expect.

Besides, isn't this the kind of drama and controversy the NFL thrives on?

Gforcetrivers's picture more one handed catches? What if a receiver catches with one knee on the ground but uses two hands? What if a receiver makes a diving catch at the goal line breaking the plane but isn't running? What if?

croatpackfan's picture

Sorry, but I like the rule. For me it is very clear description. I do not know why there is so many problems. Or I do know. It become problems when somebody want pass to be declared as catch when that is in his favour and maybe gives them advantage over the opposite team. Otherwise, at the same or very similar situation, it is not catch! Dez Bryant did not catch that pass from Tony Romo. Exclamation mark!

4EVER's picture

"Calvin Johnson make an improbable touchdown"
Note: the missing catch part.

"Cowboys still swear that Dez Bryant caught the ball"
Note: 'Cowboys still swear', of course they do?
Note: losing possession while transitioning or reaching out for more YAC is not a catch, even after you're finished mucking with the rule.

"kids in sandlots have been able to determine catches from the top two rules"
Note: Kids on sandlots still finish the process of the catch.

"An amazing catch to win a ballgame"
Note: Santonio Holmes - need more be said but know that was a catch.
Note: Maybe Dez Bryant should not have been a Dez.

"The players in this league are only going to get bigger, faster and stronger. The ways in which receivers will be able to contort their body will continue to defy physics and perhaps gravity."
Note: Exactly and with that in mind! A rule that doesn't recognize finishing the process of a catch - as this post apparently concedes - is ludicrous. Bigger, faster, and stronger athletes shouldn't want it any other way.

Tundraboy's picture

Thanks for saying it. What does bigger, faster and stronger have to do with it?

GBeletech's picture

#1 Is not really enforced. If we go to the Super bowl we have a catch where the ball is trapped against a helmet. Only one hand involved. By RULE not a catch. Thanks to the special gloves we see one-handed catches every week. By Rule not a catch. I can think of many 'catches' where the ball was trapped against a body part other than a 2nd hand. By RULE not a catch. Shall we instruct the refs to strictly enforce this rule. NO!! I love defense but I don't want to see all the fumbles they will get credit for on 'dropped' passes.

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