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The Steelers gave up an amazing catch against the Rams…or did they?

I don’t like to whine about officiating the NFL. While these are things that could and often dictate how things go throughout an entire game, it’s just one factor the teams have to overcome to be victorious. Even when the calls are extremely one sided, teams still have to buckle up and get ready to play on the next snap.

But in Week 7, there was some pretty poor officiating across a number of games in the NFL. And while teams should not be using this as an excuse, it should be brought up in order for officiating to improve. Whether it was the 10–0 discrepancy of penalties in the Sunday night matchup between the Eagles and Dolphins, or the constant calls bailing out the Cleveland Browns in order to take the lead with seconds left in the game against the Colts, the officiating in the NFL simply needs to be better.

While a fantastic argument can be made that a poor officiating call allowed the Steelers to run out the last 2:00 of their Week 7 matchup against the Rams in victory formation, there was plenty of questionable officiating throughout the game. As a fan, what is just as frustrating is an incompetent TV broadcast only showing part of the story and not truly showing if there were issues with a given call.

To give an example, early in the third quarter after the Pittsburgh Steelers scored a touchdown that was set up by T.J. Watt’s interception on the first offensive play of the second half, the Rams were faced with a third and three at their own 32-yard line. Forcing an incompletion, the Rams were aided by an offsides penalty on T.J. Watt which gave them a first down. Watt did not move before the snap but was called for being lined up in the neutral zone. While he may have been there, the TV production crew either did not have available or failed to produce a view down the line of scrimmage to show how Watt was offsides.

I’m not going to argue that it was a made-up call. What I will argue is that, much like offensive holding or an offensive tackle being off the line of scrimmage, that call could be made on almost any play. Was this simply a case where Watt was penalized because he pushed the limit too far? I’m not sure, but I saw a play later in the game where Alex Highsmith‘s feet were lined up behind the line of scrimmage but his head was leaning way over the ball and it was not called. This was also true with Rams defenders on many occasions. But this call saved the Rams from going three and out and aided them in scoring eight points on the drive.

There was another call on the very next play which has me very frustrated. I would love to say that the officials got the call wrong, but frankly the inept TV coverage was so poor that it’s hard to make a proper determination. What’s worse is they did not understand the rules well enough on the broadcast to show the most important aspect.

On that very next play, Matthew Stafford completed a pass to Puka Nacua on the sideline for a 32-yard gain down to the Steelers 31 yard line. It appeared to either be an amazing catch or one that was simply out of bounds. Ruling the player made the catch, the Rams rushed to the line of scrimmage to snap the ball quickly only for Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin to challenge the play.

First, I want to silence those who criticized challenging the play. There was no replay at that time and it looked as if the call was very questionable. The Steelers had all three of their timeouts and had not used a challenge yet so it would not have left them without a challenge the rest of the game. Yes, a timeout would be costly, but giving a team 32 free yards and putting them in field goal range is even more costly. Simply because the challenge failed does not make it a “dumb challenge.” The play needed another look.

Now back to the play. On the FOX TV broadcast, they showed highlight after highlight of how Nacua‘s 2nd foot touched down in bounds with a sliver of green between his foot and the sideline. Unfortunately, that was not what was required to make that catch legal.

To point out why this was possibly an incompletion, although we’ll never know thanks for the FOX broadcast, here is the rule for completing a catch from the 2023 NFL rule book. This is from Rule 3, Section 2, Article 7:

A player is in possession when he is inbounds and has control of the ball with his hands or arms.

To gain possession of a loose ball that has been caught, intercepted, or recovered, a player (a) must have complete control of the ball with his hands or arms and (b) have both feet or any other part of his body, other than his hands, completely on the ground inbounds, and, after (a) and (b) have been fulfilled, perform any act common to the game (e.g., tuck the ball away, extend it forward, take an additional step, turn upfield, or avoid or ward off an opponent). It is not necessary that he commit such an act, provided that he maintains control of the ball long enough to do so. This rule applies in the field of play, at the sideline, and in the end zone.

So why was this fantastic catch likely incomplete? It’s the phrase that says “have both feet or any other body part of his body, other than his hands, completely on the ground in bounds.”

The issue here comes with the word “completely.” If part of a players body is what is needed to be the second part of completing the catch, it must completely land inbounds. Did Nacua’s toe land in bounds? It did. But if the rest of his foot as part of that same step comes to the ground and hits out of bounds, it is an incomplete pass.

For those who want to bring up the issue of it being a “toe tap,” when a player taps their toe inbounds that is considered a body part and a completed catch. But that’s if their toe and only their toe hits the ground before their foot comes off the ground and they step down with their full foot. If a toe touches the ground and as part of the same step the rest of the foot come down onto the ground, that is not a toe tap. That is a step. And the very limited views of this particular play show the back portion of Nacua‘s foot possibly hitting the sideline. This is no different than a receiver at the back of the end zone facing their quarterback, catching the ball on their toes inbounds, then landing on their heel out of bounds without the toe coming back off the ground. It’s an incompletion.

On the TV broadcast, they refused to show the rest of that catch as to whether or not the foot hit down out of bounds as a part of that same step.

To pile on the TV broadcast even more, they did not share the decision made by the referee. If they were using the announcers analysis of the play, it would’ve been a play that was “confirmed.” But according to the official ruling, the play was not confirmed as a catch. It was simply ruled that the play stood. When this is the case, it’s because there was not enough evidence to overturn the call on the field. According to the FOX broadcast in the shots they showed, that was evidence to confirm the call. But they only showed part of the step.

As much as I would like to blame the officiating for this one, I simply can’t because it was the TV broadcast that failed the audience. The announcers did not know what they were talking about when it came to the rule and the video replay simply didn’t show everything that needed to be shown in order to rule correctly. Perhaps Nacua‘s heel did not touch out of bounds or it may have been too close to call. But thanks to FOX, we may never know.


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