“Is It a Catch?” Question Is Starting To Cause Serious Problems

November 22, 2015

The NFL has a serious problem on their hands: They can no longer define what actions constitute a completed pass.

The NFL Rules Committee has over-complicated the issue of what is a catch. There are different rules near the sideline than in the middle of the field. The following comes straight from the NFL Rulebook (the highlighted sections are emphasis of the NFL, not me):


A player who makes a catch may advance the ball. A forward pass is complete (by the offense) or intercepted (by the defense) if a player, who is inbounds:

  1. secures control of the ball in his hands or arms prior to the ball touching the ground; and
  2. touches the ground inbounds with both feet or with any part of his body other than his hands; and
  3. maintains control of the ball after (a) and (b) have been fulfilled, until he has clearly become a runner (see 3-2-7 Item 2).

Note: If a player has control of the ball, a slight movement of the ball will not be considered a loss of possession. He must lose control of the ball in order to rule that there has been a loss of possession.

If the player loses the ball while simultaneously touching both feet or any part of his body to the ground, it is not a catch.

Item 1. Player Going to the Ground. A player is considered to be going to the ground if he does not remain upright long enough to demonstrate that he is clearly a runner. If a player goes to the ground in the act of catching a pass (with or without contact by an opponent), he must maintain control of the ball until after his initial contact with the ground, whether in the field of play or the end zone. If he loses control of the ball, and the ball touches the ground before he regains control, the pass is incomplete. If he regains control prior to the ball touching the ground, the pass is complete.

Item 2. Sideline Catches. If a player goes to the ground out-of-bounds (with or without contact by an opponent) in the process of making a catch at the sideline, he must maintain complete and continuous control of the ball until after his initial contact with the ground, or the pass is incomplete.

Item 3. End Zone Catches. The requirements for a catch in the end zone are the same as the requirements for a catch in the field of play.

In my opinion, there is no reason why these has to be a full typed-page on what a catch is. A catch is a simple thing: control of the football with body and appendage(s), and two feet or a shoulder/forearm/knee/elbow/head down in the field of play. If those requirements are met, it’s a catch. If they’re not, it’s not a catch. If the ball comes out after those requirements are met, it’s a fumble.

See? Simple. This way, there are three possible options, not dozens. Any teacher or mathematician knows that the more variables that are added, the more complicated the problem or task becomes. Refs are having to decipher a rulebook the size of a your average mass-market paperback on the fly in a heavily pressure-packed environment.

The NFL took it upon themselves to complicate and muddy the issue with a full page of subsections, contradictions, legalese, and contract law. Every kid in America learns what “catch” means at about the age of three. Why don’t we just stick with that?

Nothing positive can happen by expanding the definition and adding loopholes to that definition. It may have cost Atlanta a win (or at least a chance to tie) today. It cost Baltimore last week. I would say that the NFL will take notice when a playoff game is affected, but it was a determining factor in both the NFC Wild Card and Divisional Playoffs last year.

The answer to the question of “Is it a catch?” is starting to feel incredibly arbitrary, and NFL fans do not have a lot of patience for arbitrary answers.


Missed 4th Downs Should Count As Turnovers

November 22, 2015

Statistics have evolved greatly over the century-plus of college and professional football. The professional and college games have added in new statistical categories to measure player and team performance over time as they have been needed to adapt to changes in the game.

Some examples are that the Passer Rating/Quarterback Rating was introduced in 1973 as a more accurate way of measuring a quarterback’s performance against that of their peers’. As is obvious now, yards, attempts, completions, touchdowns, and interceptions are not enough to determine which quarterback had the best game or season, so a stat was made to incorporate all of those attributes. The individual player tally for sacks were not kept as an official NFL statistic until 1982. It was once stated that Deacon Jones once had seventeen sacks in one game. Of course, we don’t know this for sure, but it would be interesting if this could be tallied retroactively.

One number that should be added to the basic “Team Stats” sheet should be “Missed/Unconverted 4th Down Attempts”. Last week, I was watching the Buffalo Bills play the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium on Thursday Night Football. The Bills defense forced four turnovers in the game, and also stopped the Jets twice on fourth down in the fourth quarter. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the same as collecting six turnovers. A missed fourth-down conversion is every bit as damaging to a team’s chances of winning as a turnover, especially if it’s in the red zone.  Those two 4th down stops were pivotal to Buffalo’s 22-17 victory on Thursday Night Football.

As far as I’m concerned, a missed 4th down conversion is representative of the offense involuntarily giving up possession to the opponent – just like a turnover. A punt is voluntary, a missed conversion is not. Adding missed conversions in as a main stat would give the reader/viewer a much better indication of the story and course of a game.

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