Thank You, Cris Collinsworth…

For being stupid and making my point. You are not only a former wide receiver, but you are an analyst, paid to know and evaluate the rules in the context of the game, providing us intelligent insight to enhance our viewing experience.

First though (before we look at the rule that you should have explained), lets talk facts: Zach Ertz catches a ball while running somewhat parallel to the goal line. He takes three steps AFTER catching the ball and upon the third step he turns his body toward the end zone and, although his momentum is driving him to his right, by planting his foot on the third step, launches his body, altering his momentum by nearly 90 degrees, leaps toward the end zone, and, with no ball movement whatsoever since the original moment where he makes the catch, extends the ball past the goal line. AFTER he crosses the goal line, as the ball strikes the ground, it bounces out of his hands. Important note: from the catch, through the 3 steps, fighting off a tackler and diving and ultimately extending the ball past the goal line, the ball is NEVER bobbled in any fashion. The referee signals a touchdown.

Because the play is ruled a touchdown, it is therefore the subject of MANDATORY review.

During the review, which as I have criticized before as being too long during important games and inviting problematic over-analysis (and this review was no exception), Collinsworth makes no attempt to discuss the merits of the catch/incompletion and certainly makes no effort to apply the language of the rule to play we just saw. Instead, he jumps directly to: was the guy a receiver or a runner? Collinsworth doesn’t know and flat out admits his ignorance on the topic. He says repeatedly that he doesn’t know. And he immediately pronounces that, although it surely looks like a catch from the idealistic and shortsighted  ‘I know it when I see it’ test, that he simply cannot evaluate the catch and certainly can’t predict the outcome of review due to this extremely confusing rule… and because the rule is so confusing, you never know what conclusion the referee will come to. That is his analysis. Not a nutshell, that IS his full analysis.

Here’s the problem: Absent an egregious error by the referee, under the current version of the rule this is a catch and it’s NOT EVEN CLOSE. But listen to all the talking heads discussing this catch and how questionable it was under the current version of the rule they can’t wait to change. But, here’s the text of the rule:


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 (1) and (2) have been fulfilled, until he has the ball long enough to clearly become a runner. A player has the ball long enough to become a runner when, after his second foot is on the ground, he is capable of avoiding or warding off impending contact of an opponent, tucking the ball away, turning up field, or taking additional steps

So: Ertz

  1. Secured the ball prior to the ball touching the ground. CHECK.
  2. Touched the ground inbounds with both feet. CHECK.
  3. Maintained control of the ball after 1 and 2 were fulfilled long enough to become a runner. OK, what does that mean? Good thing we have illustrative examples right there within the rule’s text. Hint, they’re the part that’s in bold above. Well, after his second foot was on the ground, he DID ward off impending contact of the opponent, DID tuck the ball away, and finally, DID take an additional step. CHECK, CHECK, and CHECK.(you know, after a controversial call, I cannot remember the last time I actually heard the commentators go through that analysis, despite it being right there in black and white)

Clearly Collinsworth, like most people on television, has not read #3. If he had read the rule, or (gasp) had the rule before him during the biggest game of the year, knowing this is the hottest topic of the year and might come up, he might have noticed that Ertz clearly did execute all 3 sections of the rule, and he could have said so. I don’t think that reasonable minds can possibly disagree on this point.

The part of the rule that’s clearly the problem is the question of when someone is a runner. I think this is nothing more than a semantic problem, that can easily be remedied if you don’t use the word runner. Clearly that is a highly confusing word, and works about as well as the term it replaced, ‘football move.’ Instead of thinking about a transformation into being a runner, try thinking of it in reverse. What if instead of ‘become a runner’, the rule said:

“maintains control of the ball after 1 and 2 have been fulfilled, and until he has held and controlled the ball long enough to clearly complete the catch.”

That’s not good language honestly, but it makes my point by changing the semantic focus from becoming a ‘runner’ to focusing on completing the act of the catch. After all, we all know a catch when we see it, right? The thing is, completing the catch is truly the defining factor even under the current rule. Being a runner in this rule is considered evidence that you’ve completed the catch and the catch is no longer at issue. It’s not that you stop being a receiver and start becoming a runner. It’s that the catch has been completed and your actions have visibly changed from attempting to secure the ball and getting your feet in bounds to trying to advance or maintain current yardage gained while holding a football that you have complete control of.

The rule could certainly be written better, but if you read it closely, my language above is in fact what it says:

You have completed the pass, if you have

     1. secured it,

     2. touch 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 an attempt to advance the football forward or maintain current yardage gained as a result of the catch.

If this were the language of the current rule, it would change NOTHING. Well, it would be easier for guys like Collinsworth to read. But the rule itself would have the identical meaning. It’s just poorly worded in its current form.

That’s a bit simplified, but that IS what this rule is currently saying. And if that’s what it’s saying – the Ertz touchdown was without question a touchdown.

Sadly the guys that are paid to read and understand the rules to the common fan either haven’t read it or are not competent to comprehend and regurgitate it for us. So, when there’s an awful call – and there have always been and always will be awful calls no matter how you change the rule – it’s amplified by their totally inadequate preparation and analysis. I cannot believe how many talking heads I’ve heard agreeing with Collinsworth in the past few days about how this call is evidence that the rule must be changed. This play is evidence that the rule WORKS. It went precisely as it should have. It’s Collinsworth’s total abdication of his duties that went wrong. If he applied the facts to the rule, he would have announced that the referees have lost their minds and misapplied the rule if they overturn the call of touchdown. But, he didn’t apply any facts, didn’t quote the rule, and managed to say it’s the rule that needs fixing. Perhaps it does, but that won’t cause him to be more prepared to analyze the next version of the rule when a questionable call comes his way.

Again, I understand that people get confused by the word runner. It could be written better. I’m glad it will change, because I’m sick of hearing about how confusing it is for guys like Colinsworth. Because then the fans that aren’t paid to pay, read, and analyze such things simply take his cue and now there’s this whole movement based on a number of bad calls that were followed by even worse analysis on national TV, finally resulting in a nationwide movement to change a rule that is only mildly in need of tinkering.

We have two choices: Take our cues from guys like Collinsworth, who is simply regurgitating and amplifying what the reactionary masses are saying about a significant handful of bad calls, or we can educate ourselves. And let’s face it: You just can’t do both at that same time.



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