Why new NFL 'catch rule' proposal won't end controversy

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Why new NFL 'catch rule' proposal won't end controversy

NFL senior vice president of officiating Al Riveron unveiled a proposal Wednesday that could potentially simplify the controversial "catch rule."

But unless the league also addresses the way instant replay is used to enforce any catch rule — new or existing — problems will persist.

Riveron solicited input from current and former players, coaches and executives on a stripped-down version of the rule after dissatisfaction with the current legislation reached an all-time high in 2017. If approved by the NFL Competition Committee, unpopular language such as "survive the ground" would be rendered archaic, and 654 words defining a catch would be reduced to fewer than 40.

The committee meets next week, when the following recommendations to determine a completed forward pass will face formal scrutiny.

1. Control

2. Two feet down or another body part

3. A football move such as:

  1. a third step
  2. reaching/extending for the line-to-gain
  3. or their ability to perform such an act

As long as you can ignore the fact that two of the rule's foundations — control and a football move — are abstract ideas and subject to interpretation, it's a fine enough rubric. Erring on the side of incisiveness probably isn't a bad idea when you're talking about a routine human action, such as catching an item.

Riveron's proposal would seemingly eliminate replay reversals such as Jesse James' non-catch, when a Steelers touchdown was overturned because the football shifted when the tight end lunged to the ground. James' and similar plays where the ball shifted subtly were considered the tipping point for those demanding a rule change.

So, surviving the ground is allegedly addressed, though even that is up for debate. Just wait until officials must rule on whether a receiver "trapped" the ball in the process of making the catch.

There are still millions of tiny movements that can occur in the moments between when a ball makes contact with a person's hands and when possession is established, many indecipherable by the naked eye.

Replay, on the other hand, ensures we will see every minute detail just fine.

The real issue has never been the catch rule. It was imperfect, just as any rule that replaces it will be because two different people can watch slow-motion footage and arrive at two different conclusions as to when control is established. The ball shifts and moves and rolls and bobbles all the time while completing a catch, perhaps intentionally, perhaps unintentionally, which even video doesn't always render clear.

The real issue is the use of these replays to scan for every possible imperfection during the process of the catch, then change what once might've been mundane calls on the field. Until this is addressed, the NFL will only subject itself to more controversy.

Fortunately, the solution is simple. Unless the call is blatantly wrong, replay shouldn't result in a reversal, exactly as the system always intended.

The league could've applied this policy to plays such as James' apparent non-catch, declaring the video evidence as "inconclusive" — which it was, based on the existence of any debate — and upholding the call on the field. Instead, the decision was made to over-litigate the game through the use of replay.

Until the NFL follows its existing rules, a new catch rule isn't going to solve anything.

Changes may be in store for struggling Flyers

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Changes may be in store for struggling Flyers

Flyers coach Dake Hakstol acknowledged a shakeup in the lineup might be on the way after his squad lost for the seventh time in eight games.

“We haven’t done much of that so far, but there’s a chance that we’ll make a change or two in terms of combinations, maybe even in terms of who’s in and who’s out of the lineup,” Hakstol said after Friday’s practice. “It’s too early to say that for sure right now, but we’re looking at a couple different things just to try to change a little bit of the rhythm, change a little bit of the chemistry.”

With only 10 games remaining and the Flyers’ once tight grip on a playoff spot suddenly in jeopardy, Hakstol may not want to wait too long to act.

The Flyers enter a pivotal weekend in third place in the Metropolitan Division, but several teams are nipping at their heels. Their 81 points are tied with the Blue Jackets, who are behind in the standings based on a tiebreaker, followed by the Devils with 80 and the Panthers’ 77.

Not only that, but the Blue Jackets and Panthers are hot, both winning eight of their last 10 contests. The Devils and Panthers also have one and three more games remaining, respectively.

Time is not on the Flyers’ side.

“We’re going to address some things individually as well as team-wise and get pushing in the right direction,” Hakstol said.

Despite their recent tumble in the standings, the Flyers aren’t panicking. Hakstol noted several of the losses have been close, though that’s largely only true of their last three defeats. They’ve played a tough schedule during the ongoing slump, a slate that included the Lightning, Penguins, Bruins, Jets and Golden Knights – all teams with better records.

Plus, the Flyers have been incredibly streaky all season long, a fact not lost on the team captain.

“We’ve been in this position before,” said Claude Giroux. “We got out of it pretty well. We just need to find a way to get out of it and stay on the winning track.”

Prior to their skid, the Flyers had a four-game losing streak sandwiched between a run where they won eight of nine and another where they won 10 of 11. There was also a 10-game winless stretch that spanned from mid-November into the first week of December.

Giroux thinks the Flyers will be fine as long as they continue doing the things that brought them to this point.

“Obviously, we have to be a little bit better in what we’re doing,” Giroux said. “But in talking about our system, I think we just keep doing what we’re doing and just work a little harder and we’ll be more successful.

Having been through cold spells before, it’s safe to say the Flyers won’t be thinking about it once the puck drops.

“Right now it’s about our guys making sure mentally the deck is clear from anything from last night or from the past week and just a real clear mindset on what our next opportunity is here,” Hakstol said.

The Flyers’ next opportunity to snap out of their funk is at the Hurricanes on Saturday.

Alex Lyon can save the Flyers' season

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Alex Lyon can save the Flyers' season

Lost amid the Flyers’ 5-3 defeat at the hands Blue Jackets on Thursday was yet another stellar relief appearance in goal from Alex Lyon.

Lyon was sensational after replacing Petr Mrazek between the pipes early in the second period, stopping all 18 shots that came his way. Flyers coach Dave Hakstol praised the rookie netminder for giving his team an opportunity to come from behind.

“He’s a battler, and that’s what we asked from him last night going into that situation,” Hakstol said following Friday’s practice.

“You need to have a mindset of going in there and absolutely slamming the door to give your team a chance to win. In order to do that, you have to have a real battling mentality, and I thought he had that right from when he stepped in the net.”

Success in a sort of stopper role has become increasingly commonplace for Lyon since joining the Flyers.

Lyon came off the bench to make five saves during the final eight minutes of a 5-3 loss to the Capitals in his January debut. The 25-year-old later earned his first NHL win against the Rangers in February, blocking 25 of 26 shots over the second and third periods to help procure a 7-4 victory.

His play has been on the rise ever since. Lyon appears to be improving with experience, posting a 2-1-0 record with a .939 save percentage in his last four games.

“I don’t know if I’d say confidence so much as comfortability,” Lyon said of his growth. “I think I always had the confidence in myself that I could do it. It’s just you have to get comfortable enough to kind of believe that.”

He shined as a substitute goaltender all along. Including his performance against the Blue Jackets, Lyon has amassed a .980 save percentage in three relief appearances — a number emblematic of his season.

Lyon began 2017-18 as the emergency-goalie-in-waiting at Lehigh Valley. He earned the call-up to the Flyers’ main roster after the injury to Brian Elliott, then saw an uptick in ice time due to Michal Neuvirth’s subsequent maladies.

The club traded for Petr Mrazek after Neuvirth went down, but Lyon still finds himself in the mix. He’s expected to start against the Hurricanes on Saturday — a pivotal contest for the Flyers’ bid to make the playoffs.

“It’s extremely exciting,” Lyon said. “This is what you think about when you’re a little kid.

“It’s not quite the same, but down in Allentown we were in a pretty hot playoff race last year and always at the top of the standings, so I’m going to draw on my past experiences.”

Elliott returned to the ice this week and could be back in uniform soon, at which time Lyon will be sent back to the minor leagues. But if the Flyers do manage to reach the postseason, his fill-in contributions will have played a big part.

Perhaps Lyon will even warrant a closer look for a full-time spot on the Flyers’ roster next season.