NFL rule book needs some tweaking

On any NFL game day my Twitter feed is generally filled with complaints about officials, and that’s a problem the NFL should be concerned with.

Fans are fans but you just don’t see such consistent vitriol aimed at the authority in other major sports unless there is an egregious error.

You may not want to hear this but for the most part NFL zebras get the mechanics of a call right an amazing amount of the time. The real problem lies in the rule book and the fact that the NFL has over-legislated its game to a ludicrous degree.

Even media seems to question coaches when they see what they perceive as big-penalty numbers but those are just part of doing business now that the league has asked officials to crack down on things like illegal contact downfield or hands to the face. For the most part, the only real control teams now have is eliminating pre-snap issues.

On Tuesday Eagles coach Chip Kelly was queried about penalties and flashed that take.

“We’ve been on the low end in some games where I’ve been really pleased with them. But, I think the penalties in the league are up,” he said. “I think we have been on the low side in almost every game we’ve played, and that’s just how the game has expressed itself. The ones that really bother you are the administrative penalties; we line up again, covered up a receiver, and had two illegal procedure penalties. Those are the ones that you can’t — they are unacceptable. That’s on us before the ball — the pre-snap penalties are the ones you can’t accept.”

Then there are the other issues like the catches that make the casual fan pull his hair out.

Similar to the Dez Bryant non-catch in the playoffs last season, the Golden Tate call over the weekend was the correct one, it’s the rule that’s the issue, but the only “process” that really mattered on Sunday was the one where people like Dean Blandino and Mike Pereira became the bigger story line than the Detroit Lions or Chicago Bears.

On the Tate touchdown catch, the ball was quickly stripped from the Notre Dame product’s hands and to the naked eye, it seemed like an interception by Chicago. But, when you slowed the action down, it was clear Tate hauled in the pass and got two feet on the ground before it was swiped for him.

11 OCTOBER 2015:  Detroit Lions wide receiver Golden Tate (15) reacts for fumbling the ball during the second quarter during game action between the Arizona Cardinals and the Detroit Lions during a regular season game played at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan.  (Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire)

(Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire)

It was called an INT on the field, however, and Pereria, the FOX rules analyst,  said he believed the play to be an interception because it wasn’t clear Tate had become a runner as he crossed into the end zone.

The call was overturned of course and it was touchdown Lions.

If the same process happened in the middle of the football field, it’s Bears’ football but because it was in the end zone, Tate is regarded as breaking the plane when those two feet hit and the play is dead.

More so if Tate was never contacted and fell to the ground while snaring the ball on his own, he would have then had to hold onto it through the entire process, something few understand better than Tate’s teammate Calvin Johnson or Bryant, who hauled in the non-reception heard around the world that would have lifted the Cowboys over the Packers in the playoffs if Blandino spent Sundays at a neighborhood bar instead of in front of television monitors on Park Avenue.

“Anywhere else, it’s really a catch and a fumble,” Blandino said on the Tate ruling on the NFL network. “In the end zone because you can’t fumble. …That’s when it becomes a catch and a touchdown. When we look at the play. …Forget about going to the ground, this is a different part of the rule. It’s different from the Dez play. This is an upright receiver who’s attempting to catch the pass.”

Those facts bury the lede, though, just as when Bryant hauled in a catch for the ages late in a postseason game last January on a 4th-and-2 play from the Green Bay 32, climbing over Sam Shields in circus-like fashion to seemingly put the Cowboys at the 1-yard line, inches away from surging ahead.

Jan. 11, 2015 - Green Bay, WI, USA - Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant (88) appears to haul in a pass to the Green Bay one-yard line while being defended by Green Bay Packers cornerback Sam Shields (37) during the fourth quarter on Sunday, Jan. 11, 2015, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis. The play was ruled incomplete, and the ball was given to the Packers

Jan. 11, 2015 – Green Bay, WI, USA – Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant (88) appears to haul in a pass to the Green Bay one-yard line while being defended by Green Bay Packers cornerback Sam Shields (37) during the fourth quarter on Sunday, Jan. 11, 2015, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis. The play was ruled incomplete, and the ball was given to the Packers

After review of that one, however, referee Gene Steratore, with help from Blandino in New York, correctly ruled that Bryant did not complete the process of the catch, a nod to the so-called “Calvin Johnson Rule” because Bryant did indeed bobble the football after slamming it on the ground while reaching for the end zone.

The irony in that one was strong on all sides because the Cowboys were the recipient of an advantageous non-call on a potential pass interference call the week prior against the Lions, a development that helped Dallas earn the trip to Lambeau in the first place.

“Bryant going to the ground. By rule he must hold onto it throughout entire process of contacting the ground,” Blandino, the NFL’s vice president of officiating, wrote on Twitter at the time. “He didn’t so it is incomplete.”

Of course Bryant’s effort was a catch in the minds of everyone except those wearing Green and Gold glasses and the NFL, a league hamstrung by that over-legislation in which common sense is replaced by five people on the face of the planet who have the ability to explain all of this nonsense while keeping a straight face.

Now Pereira, who preceded Blandino as the VP of officiating for the league, and his successor can’t even agree.

I’ve long argued that the very existence of people like Pereira should highlight the problem.

Think about it, are there rules analysts dotting the telecasts of NBA or MLB games?

Of course not because there is no need for them. You might argue so-and-so made a bad call in a particular game but the rules in those sports are straight forward and don’t need tortured explanations from people with a PhD in contradiction.

In football we have Pereira or Mike Carey to tell us that Tate can perform the exact same action in the middle of the field and it’s Bears football. On the other hand, Bryant has to turn from acrobat to running back in one fell swoop before completing the play by holding tightly on the football because the ground can indeed cause a “fumble” for a pass catcher tumbling toward the ground.

“I’m never confused [by the rule],” Blandino said, “but I’m certainly always looking to see if we can simplify things and believe me, we don’t want to have rules where people are confused and not sure what is a catch and what isn’t a catch. I feel like we do have good rules, but we’re always going to evaluate them and tweak them when needed.”

If you really don’t want people confused Dean, start tweaking.

— John McMullen is a national football columnist for TodaysPigskin.com. You can reach him at jmcmullen@phanaticmag.com or on Twitter @jfmcmullen — Also catch John this season on ESPN Southwest Florida every Monday at 3 PM ET; on ESPN Lexington every Thursday at 6:05 ET, and live every Tuesday from 2 to 6 PM ET at the Golden Nugget Casino in Atlantic City for the NFL Wraparound on ESPN South Jersey.

Also check @JFMcMullen on Twitter for John’s upcoming appearances on YAHOO! Sports Radio, FOX Sports Radio, YAHOO! Sports Radio Indiana, Omaha’s The Zone, Mobile’s WNSP, Baltimore’s 105.7 The Fan, 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston, 92.9 The Game in Atlanta, The Score 1260 in Syracuse, Sirius’ Mad Dog Sports Radio, ESPN 1530 in Cincinnati, TSN 1290 in Winnipeg, TSN 690 in Montreal and WNSR in Nashville.

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