Meet the New Catch Rule, Same as the Old Catch Rule

I’m writing this today for 2 reasons:

1. Last night we witnessed the old catch rule being applied, and I don’t want to write this when it’s sour grapes and we don’t like a catch/no-catch call. I needed this ‘change’ to burn someone other than the packers if I want this analysis to be taken seriously. No, this one was called against the Vikings, and it makes my point PERFECTLY.

2. I just can’t bring myself to review an individual loss at this moment, as it only leads me to my constant desire to discuss individual moments of failure in the context of our ever increasing downward spiral of dysfunction.

So, here’s the relevant play:

Stefon Diggs, I believe in the 2nd quarter, is running deep, Cousins launches a rainbow into the endzone, Diggs leaps up, catches the ball at the highest point, twists in the air, SECURES the ball on the way back down, one foot touches the ground, a second foot touches the ground, and according to the ‘new’ rule that is so celebrated, we should be able to take a snapshot at this moment. 2 feet on the ground, secure control of the ball, and wait for it…….no, wait for nothing. There is NO further evaluation necessary. He DOES NOT have to continue possession through the ground, and does not have to make a ‘football move’.  He just has to be capable of doing so. Touchdown Minnesota!!!! AMIRIGHT???? Not so fast. Diggs falls to the ground, and the ball squirts out when his upper body lands on top of the ball. Incomplete pass.

Wait. What?


So you got your new catch rule. Congratulations. It passed unanimously, champagne corks popped, streamers fell from the sky, and my day will be complete just as soon as someone hands me a cookie. In my last post on the topic of the catch rule though, I explained that the gist of the old rule (then the current rule) was as follows: (this is not the legalese, it is an explanation of the legalese)

You have completed the pass, if you have

  1. secured control of the ball,
  2. touched the ground in bounds with both feet or a body part other than your hands, AND
  3. are no longer in any fashion participating in the act of attempting to catch and secure the ball; it is already fully secured, and you are instead engaging in either an attempt to advance the football forward or an attempt to maintain current yardage gained as a result of the catch.


That was my analysis of the old language of the rule. NOTE: I wrote that analysis in a post written before the new rule was even drafted. Know what the new rule says? It says almost exactly what I just wrote above. Know what that means? The old rule remains and we have all been duped by the NFL. This is from NFL Network:

“The new rules defining a catch include:

  1.  Control of the ball.
    2. Two feet down or another body part.
    3. A football move such as:
    » A third step;
    » Reaching/extending for the line-to-gain;
    » Or the ability to perform such an act.”

Wow. That looks eerily similar to what I wrote about the last rule. Almost….identical. Is it possible that they simply rewrote the new rule to embrace the meaning of the old rule, but in language that was easier for the commentators to understand (as someone here suggested) and would therefore shut up the analyists and fans AND YET MANAGE TO CHANGE ABSOLUTELY NOTHING????? Yes the text of the old language was very legalistic and equally poorly written. Just do me this one favor. Look above again, and re-read my analysis of the old rule’s text, and re-read the NFL Network’s analysis of the new rule. Scary. What exactly changed?

The “Runner”:

Wait, I know what changed! They have removed the confusing ‘runner’ issue. No wait, they haven’t. Read the rule above. They removed the absolutely moronic debate over what a “runner” is, by removing the word runner from the text. Now, Chris Colinsworth and Troy Aikman can no longer pontificate over whether someone is a runner, because the word has been removed from the language of the rule. The use of the word ‘runner’ in the old rule however, was only there to establish one critical difference:

A player that drops a pass was one of the following:

  1. A “runner” was a player that had already completed the catch, and therefore was a “runner” with possession of the ball and if he loses the ball it’s a fumble. OR;
  2. If the player was still in the act of making a catch and it is not yet a completion, he is not yet in possession of the ball, therefore is not a runner, and therefore losing the ball results in an incompletion.

That’s all it meant, and you’d think paid professionals that used to actually play the game could give decent explanation, but no.

Removing the word runner changed absolutely nothing. That distinction of whether you are a runner or not when the ball hits the ground is a critical one, and whether the language is included in the section that discusses a completed pass or not, that difference will continue to be applied. When a ball comes loose and the other team jumps on it, when the referee explains the call, instead of using the word runner, he’ll say something like the catch was not completed, it is an incomplete pass, there was no fumble. Or the referee will say, the catch was completed, the ball was fumbled after the completion, team x recovered the ball. That rule will always be there, they removed that discussion from the completed pass section of the rules, specifically removing the word runner. I assure you, for those receivers that catch the ball, if they drop it, the fumble language remains in the rule book.

The Ground:

OK, so you say the runner issue changes absolutely nothing about the catch rule. What about removing all references to maintaining the catch through the ground?

Here you do have a point. By removing all references to the ground from the criteria, they surely did change something. So NOW! FINALLY! We declare victory, right? No budget for fireworks, so we’ll settle for streamers. Perhaps yes, but lets not get too excited until we see how this plays out(see Stefon Diggs incompletion). By removing this ‘maintain the catch through the ground’ language, they suggest they’re going to evaluate each catch without using how you hit the ground as a definitive factor. Keeping the ball through the act of hitting the ground supposedly isn’t required. But, when you catch the ball and you’re in the air or already falling to the ground, there is no longer a clear definition of how long you have to have it and when the catch is done(complete). There is no ‘aha’ moment to establish the pass is complete when the end of the catch result in the receiver hitting the ground. You’ve just clouded the issue, not clarified it. The most famous example is the Dez Bryant play, but as I explained in my last post, that was an extraordinarily rare circumstance, and because Dez was going through such lengthy acrobatics to keep moving the ball forward, the ‘going to the ground’ portion of the catch was unusually long, drawn out and dramatic than usual prior to the ball popping out. But I defy you to find more than 5 examples of that circumstance playing out even close to the way it happened to Dez. That catch was by far the exception, not the rule. Most of the time, you’re applying this rule to a play like Diggs in the end zone. He CLEARLY caught the ball, just like Dez did, in accordance with the new rule you could definitely get a screen shot of him with his feet down and the catch completed. You were sold a bill of goods as to this new version of the rule. You were told we could take a snapshot and not worry about continuing the catch through the ground. But, the refs called it incomplete because Diggs failed to maintain the catch through the ground, which he truly failed to do, so it was incomplete. AS IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN. And in the I-could-have-seen-that-coming department, the announcer avoided any discussion of it entirely. Didn’t even bring it up. I could have written this article 10 times already this season from packer games alone, and not once have I heard the announcer bring up the new and improved catch rule.

Bottom Line: at the moment both feet were on touching the ground all Diggs needed was ‘the ability to perform such an act,’ which at that moment he absolutely had the potential to do. Know why Diggs didn’t have that ability? End zone or not, he didn’t have that ability because he was he caught the ball in mid air, was going to the ground as a part of the act of catching the ball, and didn’t maintain possession through the ground, and new rule or no, this referee required him to maintain possession through the ground..


Conclusions? None except the rules are virtually the same, and the improvements were nothing more than misdirection.

The two changes above are nothing but slight of hand. There was an uproar over Dez and like 5 other catches. So without changing a thing of substance, the NFL changed the rule, and announced victory.

The changes you see were only created to shut you up. The new rule is NEARLY IDENTICAL to the old rule. Very little has changed about the meaning of the catch, but we can pat ourselves on the back because our cries have been heard and we have completely revamped this horrific and unjust rule. We did after all, change something that didn’t need changing in the spirit of undoing maybe five past injustices.

And just remember when this happens to us, you heard it here first. Removing the word runner was entirely inconsequential. Removing the ground from the criteria? Ask Mr. Diggs if he thinks anything changed this morning. And please don’t be surprised when the next referee calls it the complete opposite way, now that there is literally no reference to the ground in the rule itself. It’s thunderdome out there folks and although the ref’s have no doubt been given some unwritten instructions on how to call it, from here on out when a receiver loses the ball while going to the ground, you really can’t pull out the rulebook and complain that the ref got it wrong, because the ground ISN’T EVEN REFERENCED in the rule anymore so its impact on the play is 100% within the discretion of the referee. I suspect they’ll continue to call it the same as the old rule, just like they have all season, and just like they did with Diggs last night, because clearly they were instructed to do so. But if a ref does go rogue, you cannot look to the rule and complain that the ref got it long, because the rulebook is now silent on this topic.

Thanks for the new rule though. Glad we got that whole catch thing straightened out.




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