NFL simplifies catch language


Associated Press

ORLANDO, Fla.

Maybe it’s too late for Jesse James and the Steelers or Zach Miller and the Bears.

No matter, the NFL has a simplified catch rule designed to eliminate confusion — and, the league hopes, controversy — about receptions.

Team owners unanimously approved the new language Tuesday, with basically three elements defining a catch:

Having control of the ball;

Getting two feet down or another body part;

Making a football move, such as taking a third step or extending the ball.

“We wanted to simplify and provide clarity,” Pittsburgh coach and longtime competition committee member Mike Tomlin said. “It was time to do so after we got caught up in language that didn’t do that.

“The language was obscure and confusing.”

The committee cited overturned receptions by tight ends James and Miller last season among the dozens of plays they reviewed “dozens of times,” according to committee chairman Rick McKay, president of the Atlanta Falcons.

The James call was particularly impactful because the Steelers wound up losing to New England in a December game that determined home-field advantage for the playoffs. The Patriots got it and wound up in the Super Bowl. Pittsburgh lost its first postseason game to Jacksonville.

Just as infamous were negated catches by Dez Bryant of the Cowboys in a 2015 playoff game at Green Bay, and Calvin Johnson of the Lions in 2010 against the Bears.

“I think the third step recommendation was excellent,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “It cleans up a majority of the [catches] that were in question. The old rule was so technical. We’re better off today than in the past.”

Added Tom Coughlin, the Jaguars’ top executive:

“First of all, simplicity is the key. I think this is a fan-driven concept here because a lot of people have no idea why was this thing called that way and why was the next one not called that way. ... I think we’ve cleaned up a lot of that, and that will get the fans more engrossed in the game. It’s going to be much easier for them to understand what is and what isn’t.”

Late Tuesday, the owners rewrote the rule on using the helmet, making it a 15-yard penalty for any player to lower his head to initiate any hit with the helmet.

McKay called it “a significant change,” noting that it was a “technique too dangerous for the player doing it and the player being hit.”

McKay said the tackle made by the Steelers’ Ryan Shazier last season that resulted in the linebacker suffering a spinal injury — Shazier underwent spinal stabilization surgery two days later — was not the impetus for the change. But it was an example of what needs to be eliminated from the game.

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