With catch rule under scrutiny, third-step concept merits consideration

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Three years ago, in the aftermath of #DezCaughtIt, a sense emerged that the league would make meaningful changes to the catch rule. The league didn’t.

Now, a strong feeling of inevitability has emerged that some sort of substantive change will be made to the catch rule. So what should the change be?

The problems arise not from the first two elements of the catch rule (possess the ball plus two feet or body part on the ground) but from the third element, which contemplates having the ball for a certain period of time before a catch has occurred. Without the third element, a player who has the ball for a nanosecond before being hit legally by a defensive player and losing possession would be deemed to have caught the ball and fumbled it.

The third element has traditionally been subjective. Previously, the third element required the player to have the ball long enough to perform an act common to the game. More recently, the third element was changed to require the player to have the ball long enough to clearly become a runner. These are both subjective tests, not conducive to slow-motion, frame-by-frame replay review.

There’s another possibility, an objective way to complete the catch and to permit the process to be reviewed reliably and consistently by replay. It’s the concept of taking an extra step after getting two feet down. We suggested a new catch rule based on taking a third step in 2015, and the concept (notwithstanding our support for it) gained some traction.

With the league meetings approaching quickly, it could be gaining traction again. And it could end up on the table next week, whether formally proposed by the Competition Committee or not. Ultimately, the owners can make any rule changes they want to make, regardless of whether enough members of the Competition Committee sign off on it.

The goal is (or should be) to devise a rule that meshes with the reasonable expectations of all stakeholders (owners, coaches, executives, players, media, and fans) regarding what a catch is, and what a catch isn’t. But it’s not enough to codify a know-it-when-you-see-it rule; there must be a standard that can be fairly and consistently applied.

Ideally, the standard would be objective, to ensure consistency — and to facilitate replay review. Hinging the third element on the player getting two feet down and taking one more step could make the most sense, and it could mesh most closely with that we expect a catch to be, and to not be.

66 responses to “With catch rule under scrutiny, third-step concept merits consideration

  1. No! Stop! Just go back and read the rule 10 years ago. That was the rule, and it had been for a long time. There was nothing wrong with the rule. They just needed instant replay, and now they have it. Why change the rule? Why change the sport? Football is the most popular form of entertainment in the world. Two feet. I love the NFL. I love football. Why change the sport? I guess everybody doesn’t love football.

  2. With clear control of the ball, the split second the 3rd step occurs. That is where slow motion can overrule a ref.

    That is, when a ref is not in position (while some fans, players etc are) to see a juggle. So clearly, as time goes on, the only overrule will be the actual possession, not the whole crap we see now. If the 3rd step is used and not what constitutes the subjective ‘football move’. Dex made a football move and the 3rd step. James made the 3rd step but then did he fumble before he crossed the line. So it’s a catch but a different ruling based on the 3rd step.

    Makes sense. So it won’t be used…

  3. A catch with two feet down is all that is necessary in the endzone so long as you hold onto the ball. That is where the attention should be made – determine the length of time a catch would be needed to make it legal – replay it and time it – if that play is short of the time needed, no catch.

    Very easy to police and specific. Since not every catch can have a football move, then we must look elsewhere for the standard of the catch. Any movement of the ball during the process length of time resets the clock on the catch.

  4. The biggest problem with the catch rule is the “completing the catch while going to the ground” and the refs being too dumb to know what that means.

  5. The most glaring rule that needs to changed and they wont is the pass interference penalty. Untill they address that way they use it to call it to decide games or make them close i dont have any faith in them making the catch rule any differnt other than another tool to control outcomes and playoff chance scenarios and if you think they dont your being nieve.

  6. The 3rd element is easy. The player must have control of his body and stopped or reversed the momentum he had at the time he initially controlled the ball.

  7. Every time this conversation comes up I think back to Super Bowl XII and the Butch Johnson catch. If the current rules of today were in play then, that would not have been a catch nor a touchdown. How did the rules evolve so far from what they were then?

  8. 2 feet inbounds with control of the ball. Period. No need to “complete the process”

  9. The three-step idea makes sense to me. For those who want “two feet and that’s all” I’d say that will never happen in the player-safety era. That would encourage defensive backs to light up receivers as soon as they catch the ball – as long as there are “defenseless receivers” there must be rules that define when they stop being defenseless. A third step after the two feet are down with control seems like a reasonable compromise.

  10. golions1 says:
    March 20, 2018 at 10:53 pm
    2 feet inbounds with control of the ball. Period. No need to “complete the process”

    Completely agree! The entire “drop it after a nanosecond” argument is eliminated by the element of control. If you actually, factually control it – even for a nanosecond – and then drop it, it’s a fumble. Period. The problem with imposing a third step rule is applying it to the case where a ball is caught, controlled and NO steps are taken, but the receiver is down, either because he was falling down when he caught it or hit while he was in the air. There is no third step there – a receiver is lucky sometimes to get 2 feet down, much less take another step. Please stop this! Catch – 2 feet down – control. That. Simple.

  11. I think all this fidgeting with the rule is going to make it worse. It should be left as is. This need to change the rule got started all because of social media backlash, and ESPN’s whining over the Jesse James’ catch,ONLY because of the team that won the game, no more no less. Had the Browns, Bengals or Ravens or any of the OTHER home teams the Steelers faced won this game, trust me, I don’t think this catch rule would have been up for a change. If Dez and Calvin didn’t catch it, James didn’t catch it.

  12. They still haven’t really solved anything. There’s still going to be lots of boring replay to slow down the game bc no one can agree on the actual definition of a catch.

  13. I would ask Bills or Steelers fans. I mean those two teams did have calls turned over on terrible calls vs the patriots.

  14. I don’t understand how that would work. Toe drag swag is based on two feet. Adding the requirement for a third step is too much. Just stick with two feet, catch. Simple. Maybe a few more fumbles, but more importantly less controversy.

  15. This has such an easy solution… Make your catch rule similar to the college rule. If you get one foot on the ground with control it’s a catch! The NFL would love to have more scoring and this would eliminate a lot of the BS.

  16. To me, I am fine if the league considers a pass incomplete if the player possesses the ball, gets two feet down and then falls out of bounds, dropping the ball when they hit the ground. However, in the field of play, if you catch the ball, get two feet down, then get tackled, you should be downed by contact. Of course, if you aren’t touched it should be a fumble.

  17. They need to take away the “ball movement” deal when it comes to going to the ground. I don’t care if the ball wiggles 3 degrees north-northeast when he hits the ground. It should be a catch unless he CLEARLY loses possession of the ball.

  18. I can’t believe this is even an issue. Stevie Wonder could see that if somebody catches the football in bounds, holds on to it, and gets both feet down, it’s a catch. If the ball comes loose after the catch is made, it’s a fumble. End of story. Why complicate it any more than that? And, by the way, Calvin Johnson, Dez Bryant, and Jesse James caught those balls. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to see that.

  19. Do this and you’ll solve your problem, NFL. 1) Get better, faster, more athletic officials who can be in position to make the right calls, and 2) use replay only to confirm the call on the field. For fifty years before replay, officials made the call and that was the end of it. Stop splitting hairs on what is a catch and what isn’t. Let the offical make the call and then live with it–but it had better be the right call.

  20. Isn’t getting both feet down enough of a time element? If you’re running or jumping, which is most of the time, at least one foot is off the ground. If there’s a hit before the second foot comes down, no catch. If you’re so worried about the bang-bang ball’s-loose play, add a rule that if the ball comes loose immediately, evidence is “inconclusive,” so no catch.

  21. TD’s shouldn’t have a different clause because one is a reception and the other is on a running play. So if you break the plane of the goal line with the ball it is a TD for both. Dez caught the ball and so did Calvin. But the NFL made up a rule to cover poor officiating which produced more bad calls. I hope they get it right now on because it is ruining the NFL game.

  22. The problem with this idea is this: currently a knee or elbow or any other body part counts as two feet down. Does it count as three feet down if the rule changes to that? So if someone jumps and their knee grazes the ground its an instant catch no matter what?

  23. Simply add that if the receiver catches the ball with 2 feet in bounds and maintains possession while falling to the ground, the ground cannot cause an incomplete pass – same as the ground cannot cause a fumble. In the endzone once the pass is caught, in bound ie the ball crosses the line, it is a touchdown. I dont see how this is so difficult to get right.

  24. The third step consideration is ridiculous …..every catch, in every game that involves a sideline route when a player gets one foot down while then dragging a toe as he is falling out of bounds would be incomplete and if left alone the same play as is would be a catch so long as he does not lose control of the ball when he hits the ground and maintains possession…..trying to fix what is not broken(The process is understood by football fans, it’s the casual fans that have trouble with it) with a 3rd step only makes the football field smaller on any play at the sidelines or back of the end zone

  25. 2 feet down, ball secure in hand or craddled against body = catch. The time shouldn’t matter. If it’s a bam, bam tie (up to one half of a second in hand), catch attempt, hit (either defensive or to the ground) and ball comes lose, this should be ruled not a catch, not a fumble. Got to speed the game up.

  26. This starting to be worse than figuring out the time-space paradoxes in time traveling movies where can actually you meet yourself or technology from the future kickstarts technology in the past.

  27. so dumb.
    does the ball hit the ground – did the player drop it – then its a damn catch!
    no more rules with these arbitrary game changing and biased interpretations. simplify the rules so you cant rig the games. #WWNFL.

  28. vaphinfan says:
    March 20, 2018 at 11:49 pm
    I would ask Bills or Steelers fans. I mean those two teams did have calls turned over on terrible calls vs the patriots.

    Those were good calls, its that you dont like how the rule reads, and fair enough its a valid question. But lets say they do this for you so if an identical play occurs next year it’s now a catch and a score. And the identical play does happen. Only this time its a Patriot reciever in question so they get the TD. Will you be happier that the rule is being called the way you are right now saying it should be? Or will you be mad the TD doesnt get waved off? The moral….be careful what you wish for.

    The other moral…no matter how the rule reads it applies equally to both teams and it has equal chance of favoring or disfavoring either team at any point in the game.

  29. Seriously, now they’re going to have all these meetings and confuse the issue even more and why?

    Because if they jusy go back in time to how the rule worked for so many years, they will be admitting they made a mistake.

  30. Catch rule is fine, it is replay that needs to be addressed.

    Either we roll it back to when it debuted and was confined very specifically, as merely a way to prevent the worst of the worst bad calls, or we eliminate on-field officials, we chip the ball, the field, and players’ equipment, and bathe everything with lasers so human error/judgement is 100% eliminated.

    This death by 1000 bad ideas is, well, killing the game.

  31. The problem is with the NFL’s obsession with making every rule something that has objective application. There’s a subjective element to the game that can’t be ruled out, and in trying to do exactly that, the rule book has grown so cumbersome that it’s impossible to consistently enforce. Go back to the “I know a catch when I see it” standard, then hire full time refs whose only job is to be as good as they can be at making proper judgements on the field.

  32. What if the third step is out of bounds? No more sideline toe catches?

    I say, if the ball is cradled to the body between beltline and shoulders whether moving or not (i.e. a body catch) and two feet down or secured in out-stretched hands and two feet down (high point catch), it’s a catch. If, during a body catch, the ball is knocked loose by any hit except the ground it’s a fumble. If a “bang-bang” hit happens during a high point catch (before the ball is cradled and whether it’s moving or not) then the pass is incomplete. Any other type of catch, helmet catch, shoulder pad catch, back of the head catch is treated like a high point catch. Regardless of the type of catch, once you begin forward progress, if WR loses control of the ball, it’s a fumble.

    Obviously, barring a “bang-bang” hit, a high point catch is normally brought to the body (unless it’s a toe-tapper). At that point, just like a body catch, if the ball comes loose, it’s a fumble.

    With this rule, no one has to use their judgement on whether the ball is in control during a body catch. This will also have WRs focused on securing the ball as quickly as possible to avoid the “bang-bang” play that can cause a body catch to be ruled a fumble. And, it keeps alive the toe-tapping sideline catch where it’s often a high-point catch with no room for a third step.

  33. No matter what the bozos do, it’s going to still look like they are influencing the outcome of games via officiating and replay.

    That they didn’t overturn the touchdown in the Super Bowl where the guy was out of the endzone before controlling the ball just shows how stupid it all is.

    That’s what happens when you have one guy abusing the replay process during the regular season, and then is too afraid to make the right call in the biggest game of the year.

  34. Catch. One step forward into end zone, breaking the plane. Before second foot comes down, defensive player knocks ball out. What’s the call?

  35. The Jesse James play to me was the first time where I said “I don’t love it, but I know that’s not a catch based on the rules”. So people will just figure it out and at this point anyone that says “I don’t know what a catch is” is just lying to themselves. It’s easy to figure out and as long as it’s called consistently (It was not in the super bowl), I don’t see the problem.

  36. ok, 30 steps b4 going out of bounds. then , get the actual ball notarized, and have a federal judge rule that the legs were actually those of the player who made the catch. good lord

  37. Edward Halverson says:
    March 20, 2018 at 10:32 pm
    Catch it, and have both feet down.

    A catch!


    And if the receiver is hit and the ball comes out it is a fumble then…right?

    Taking this approach will increase the number of fumbles immensely…which is fine as long as the refs call it consistently the same.

  38. fringetastic says:
    March 21, 2018 at 10:01 am
    Catch. One step forward into end zone, breaking the plane. Before second foot comes down, defensive player knocks ball out. What’s the call?


    Exactly… I agree. That’s why it has to be 1 Mississippi. You don’t have to move your feet at all to have caught the ball, so any step rule makes no sense.

  39. nhpats says:
    March 21, 2018 at 11:49 am
    Edward Halverson says:
    March 20, 2018 at 10:32 pm
    Catch it, and have both feet down.
    A catch!
    And if the receiver is hit and the ball comes out it is a fumble then…right?
    Taking this approach will increase the number of fumbles immensely…which is fine as long as the refs call it consistently the same.


    1 Mississippi with possession and 2 feet down at any point you have that possession. There is always going to be some level of subjectivity from the point the ball touches the receivers hands until they are deemed to have possession, but that’s what the refs get paid for. Forget all these other ideas.

  40. Seems that 3 steps would result in just as many “looks like a catch but isn’t” situations than the current rule, maybe even more.

    The more I think about this, the more I think the current rule is OK as is and just needs more getting used to. The problem isn’t the rule, it’s how it’s interpreted with microscopic instant replay and variable human beings.

  41. I’d rather keep it subjective and not allow slo-mo to determine catch/no-catch on replay. Replay official has to watch the play in real time and make the call. Use slo-mo for things like spotting the ball, getting feet in bounds, and stuff where a freeze-frame could actually help the game. Catch/no-catch should be determined at full speed.

  42. Some will disagree with me, but I say get rid of super-slow motion replays and let the referee use the eye-test. How many times do we need to see what all believe is a catch to get overturned by some minor ball movement?

    You can have the ball move a smidge but still be in control of the ball.

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