By Nick Shook
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The league’s most controversial rule is getting a rework this offseason, and coaches are coming away from the week’s owners meeting in Orlando, Florida, with a variety of opinions on the matter.
Saints coach Sean Payton decided to take the instruction route, giving an ironclad “control it through the ground” demand and opening the door for more turnovers.
“Look, we’re in the teaching business so if I told you, ‘hey, man I catch it with two hands and I have control and I hit the ground,’ I still have to control it,” Payton told NFL Network’s Steve Wyche. “If I dive and I’m in the air and I catch it like we’ve seen, I’ve got to control it through the ground. Basically, a football act or a third step makes me a runner, and it’s that simple. So I think you’re going to have more catches and I think you’ll have more fumbles too.”
More fumbles instead of broken-up passes could be on the table with such definitive change. But that sounds a lot like the previous rule, minus the word “survive” when discussing the surface on which they play the game.
NFL Network’s Judy Battista asked Steelers coach Mike Tomlin about the rule. Tomlin, you’ll recall, was directing a team that had seemingly won a thrilling late-season game over the New England Patriots on a pass to tight end Jesse James, who caught the pass but did not survive the ground as he crossed the goal line, thus overturning his touchdown reception. New England ended up winning the game and the top seed in the AFC, Pittsburgh was forced to host Jacksonville at home in the divisional round and never made it to a rematch after being upset by the Jaguars.
So, is the catch rule fixed, Mike?
“It is. It is, and by fixed I mean the language,” Tomlin told Battista. “Often times, you can sit around like this, in a discussion, and we all know what a catch is. But, can you produce language that reflects that, regardless of circumstance. I feel really good about the place we’ve gotten with the language this offseason.”
Tomlin later went on to say he’d wished James had turned and run into the end zone instead of diving.
The third of our Sunday panelists doubling as NFL coaches is Jacksonville’s Doug Marrone, who took more of a utopian approach to the question.
“I hope so. I do, I really do,” Marrone said when asked by Battista if the rule was solved. “I think the third part of it is the crucial part. As long as you’ve shown possession, you know, of that ball, you’re going to be fine. I think when it talks about did the ball move or other words we’ve put in, I think as long as you’ve shown possession, you have that football, I think that’ll help.
“It’s tough. From the officals’ standpoint, I think things are tough on them. I know it’s tough on me on the sideline. I always tell them how they make those calls in those situations when they’re quick, I give them credit. I know they take a lot of pride in it but again, we have a competition committee. We have a commissioner. … I think we’re trying to get the game better, trying to get it to where there’s two parts to it: One is what’s the right thing to do, obviously for the integrity of the game, and the other one is what can we officiate in real time? I think that’s what’s going on right now and I think we’re on the right track to what the catch is.”
The question of catch/no catch arose nearly every week last season. We’ll learn rather quickly how well the competition committee did with rewriting the rule come August.