Arguably the biggest challenge that the NFL will face this offseason is the reconstruction of the concept of a catch, which is perhaps the most fundamental element of the game as it is played today, in competition perhaps only with the notions of blocking and tackling. Given the frequency with which the ball is thrown, it is pretty important to get a good feel for what a catch is and is not.
The current iteration of the rule, one might say, does not strictly adhere to common sense when it comes to laying out the ground rules for what a catch is. In case, if it looks like a catch, walks like a catch, and talks like a catch, there remains a good chance that it is not a catch.
While there are always notable instances that call into question what a catch is, this season in particular served up a number of high-profile examples, and we saw two touchdown receptions in the Super Bowl alone taken to booth review. Both were upheld, but only one was confirmed as a catch, while the other stood as called.
The most significant example in our discussion obviously came in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ game against the New England Patriots, in which tight end Jesse James appeared to record a go-ahead touchdown toward the end of the fourth quarter, but it was determined upon review that he did not ‘survive the ground’ as the ball came loose when he contacted the grass after going to the ground while making the reception.
The issues have been so frequent and so significant that the league, including Commissioner Roger Goodell, has vowed, in so many words, to tear the catch rule apart and start from scratch. He has even said that they will focus particular attention on the aspect of ‘surviving the ground’.
The task will be left up to the Competition Committee to rebuild the catch rule, and part of that Competition Committee includes Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin himself, who was critical of it after his team was victimized by it following the game against the Patriots. At least, critical to a point that would not result in discipline from the league.
Back in December, following the loss, Tomlin was asked about the catch rule and told reporters that “all of this needs to be revisited”.
“It’s not just that play, we’re having similar discussions week in and week out”, he said, “so as a member of the committee, I acknowledge that we’ve got our work cut out for us this offseason regarding a number of those things”.
Other members of the Competition Committee include Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome and Dallas Cowboys owner Stephen Jones. Members of both organizations have gone on record as being critical of the catch rule.