Tim Benz: How to best craft the 'Jesse James Rule'
Move over Mel Blount. Make room Hines Ward. Step aside James Harrison.
Jesse James is about to become the latest Steeler to have his own “rule” named after him.
“The Jesse James Rule” might soon mean “surviving the ground” will not survive the offseason.
James' infamous overturned touchdown against the New England Patriots in Week 15 of 2017 appears to have been the proverbial straw that broke the league's back when it comes to officiating what should be a legal catch.
The Dez Bryant debate occurred three seasons ago. Calvin Johnson's was seven. Yet the NFL stubbornly plowed through the catch grey matter for years. The argument about James' play that would have beaten the Patriots and reshaped the AFC playoff bracket became the tipping point.
Many speculated that negative reaction to the James ruling influenced the NFL's decision not to overturn two Philadelphia Eagles touchdowns in the Super Bowl win against New England.
This week, ESPN.com quoted New York Giants owner John Mara as saying the “going to the ground” element of securing a catch should be “relaxed.”
For my money, new rules moving forward should be written making it clear those two Eagles plays, James', Bryant's and Johnson's all should be irrefutable receptions.
Where things will get dicey for the NFL is trying to navigate the nuance of the “relaxed” language. After all, not everything can be a catch.
So here are four elements that must be taken into consideration while creating a new catch rule that will be more tangible to fans and players.
1. Figure out what the goal line really means: A running back can leap over a pile and break the plane of the goal line by half an inch. If the ball then is swatted away a nanosecond afterward, it doesn't matter.
Yet receivers such as James and Johnson were held to a higher standard. They were in possession of the ball, in bounds, with the ball in their hands beyond the goal line. Yet both scores were overturned because apparently receivers have to maintain possession of the ball until — well, when? After the commercial break, maybe?
If the goal line instantly stops the play for established runners, it should for pass catchers, as well.
2. Change the replay system: Don't make all scoring plays automatically reviewed. If the play is a legitimate debate, let the coach challenge the call. If he doesn't, let the call on the field stand.
Because I'm not sure if Bill Belichick would've challenged the Jesse James call, either play in the Super Bowl, the Kelvin Benjamin play in Buffalo or the Austin Seferian-Jenkins catch vs. the Jets.
This would place the burden of challenging on a team if it really thinks it might have been wronged by a call, instead of on league officials who are actively looking to disprove a decision — with no individual consequences — as opposed to upholding one.
That also would speed up the game.
3. Don't differentiate between the words “completion” and “possession”: In his explanation, even NFL rules czar Al Riveron said of James' incompletion that Ben Roethlisberger “completed a pass.”
Then what? It suddenly became, uh, “reincompleted”!? Or dispossessed?!
“Completion” or “possession” apparently can mean different things at different times.
“Completing the action of the completion” or “possessing a completion” should be redundancies. But apparently in Riveron's world, there was a significant difference.
4. Phrase the language so it doesn't treat the ball like a faberge egg: For a play such as Bert Emanuel's , must the ball be pristinely off the ground at all times, or can it scrape the turf while against the player's body so long as it isn't entirely jarred free.
In the case of James, if a receiver's hands are both on top of the ball, don't call it incomplete if it wiggles an inch after gravity has taken a 200-pound player to the earth.
Philadelphia's Corey Clement shifted the ball to shield it while going through the end zone in the Super Bowl. He never was out of control of the catch. So why the scrutiny?
We toss babies in the air to make them laugh. Yet if the ball moves an inch in the receiver's hand, we act like it'll spontaneously combust.
So here's some advice NFL competition committee:
• More common sense
• More common language
• Less language overall
• Less use of mandatory replay
If the NFL follows these guidelines in constructing the new catch rule, this will be a better planet.
Tim Benz hosts the Steelers pregame show on WDVE and ESPN Pittsburgh. He is a regular host/contributor on KDKA-TV and 105.9 FM.