The Catch Rule has Been Changed and it is all Good (Mostly)

Packers Cowboys catch reversaL Dez Bryant

Cowboys fans are vindicated!  Dez caught it!  Of course, this isn’t true.  Rules change every year, and teams have to play by the rules for the current year they are in, not future or past years.  And its important to point oout that officlas called the rule as it relates to “going to the ground,” remarkably consistent over the years.  Plus ,the Packers still had a better than 50% chance to win the game had Dez hung on.  But that along with several other controversial  plays have prompted the competition committee to recommend a rule change.

The catch rule has eliminated the “going to the ground” element of the catch rule, pending approval by the owners which is for all intents and purposes, a rubber stamp.  And this week, the headlines, and opinions regarding this change has been ripe for hot takes, eventhough the NFL got it right.  (That is if it was going to make a change at all.  One can argue the rule was fine.)  Its always just easier to complain, or be ignorant about something than it is to be thoughtful.  And its always hard to give the NFL credit for anything.    The rule for what constitutes a catch is now as follows, per Al Riveron.

  1. Control (This hasn’t Changed)
  2. Two Feet down or another body part (This hasn’t changed, though some people want it to end here.  See Below)
  3. A football move such as:  (Football move has always been there, but now this is the exclusive standard and going to the ground has gone away)
    1. A Third Step (new)
    2. Reaching/Extending for the line to gain. (New and would have made the Dez and Jess James plays, touchdowns)
    3. Or the ability to perfrom such an act. (Some have an issue with this.  See below but its a good element of the rule.

There are three main complaints and/or suggestions for the rule:

1. The rule should be two feet down and that is it.  This is a common take amongst the NFL Twitter elite:  Aaron Naglar of is of this opinion, as is the pompous founder of Pro Football Focus Sam Monson and quarterback analyst Cian Fahey.    Here are their takes.

If the rule was simply control and two feet we would have plays like this, that would now be fumbles. Is that really what you would want?  Does that make sense?  It seems well-intentioned but, there would be several consequential plays that would affect the outcome of the game as a result of the lower standard, far more than the occasional Dez, or Jesse James play.

2.   The second issue as mentioned by Dean Blandino is that it will not take care of the controversial calls, because it will shift it from a debate as to        whether or not a player has established themselves as a runner to whether they have made a football move.  This is 100% true.  But I would argue, that is okay because this is what the catch should be.  Jesse James had control of the ball.  The only reason he lost control of it was that he had enough control of it to reach for the goal line.  That makes sense.  You can never take the controversy out of officiating.  But you can make the rules reflect what makes the most sense and what establishes fairness.

3.  The third issue is the #3 criteria for what a football move is.  “Or the ability to perform such an act.”  Many people have pointed to this as opening up a can of worms and leaving it too gray for officials.  But let’s think about what this means.  This would happen if a player, caught the ball, had complete control but instead of trying to do more they just chose to cover up and go down.  They shouldn’t be punished for that.  Officials in all sports, all the time, have to make judgment calls such as this.

Another issue, which hasn’t been brought up by many analysts, but is the most legitimate issue, is an unintended consequence of the ground causing a fumble in the field of play.  For example, if the Jesse James play occurred at the ten and he was reaching for the 1st down, since he was not contacted by the opponent, when the ball moves it is a fumble and there would be a mad scramble for the ball.  And anytime a player goes to the ground and the ball even moves a litte that could cause a mad scramble for the ball.  This issue was noted by and the only analyst to note the issue that I am aware of.  (Football Zebras which is a great website and Twitter follow for anyone interested in actually understanding the rules and what goes into officiating, not just complaining)  I don’t think those situations will be all that common, but it is a valid point.

The real issue which I have stated before and will again, is with instant replay.  It has caused the game to be officiated in a way that it was never intended.  Its suppose to be with the naked eye, but now its done with a microscope.  Replay, and subsequent reversals should be limited to plays such as the Jerry Rice fumble in the 1998 playoffs.  It was clear and obvious.  Not play where you have to watch ten replays.  This change is a good attempt at addressing a perceived issue with a particular rule.  I commend the NFL for that.




Originally from Glidden Wisconsin, Jason Straetz is a lifelong Packers\' fan, who has lived in Maine for over 30 years. He is a writer for You can follow him on Twitter: @jsnstz