Aaron Rodgers is one of the best in the business at catching opposing defenses with 12 men on the field or coaxing the defense offside through his cadence.
For Rodgers, the good news is the NFL isn’t changing its protocol on substitutions. If the offense changes players, the defense is entitled to change personnel, as well. But if the defense tries to shuttle in new players while the rest of the Packers’ offense stays on the field, it will be doing so at its own peril. However, on defensive offside, if the offending player has a free run at Rodgers, the play will continue to be blown dead.
“He’s already asked us how come we call unabated to the quarterback,” said referee Walt Coleman, whose crew spent the past three days in Green Bay to officiate practices and meet with the players about rules changes. “He would prefer us not to call that because it takes away his free play.”
Rodgers understands why plays are blown dead, even if he sometimes doesn’t like it.
“They’re banking on player safety and trying to avoid the unnecessary hits on myself and defenseless players,” Rodgers said at his locker before Monday night’s practice. “I was joking with them, ‘Just let them go. Let them try to tackle me and give us a chance to get a free play.’”
Countered Coleman during a Monday afternoon rules meeting with reporters: “Aaron is convinced he can get away from that but I tried to explain to him, ‘What happens if you don’t?’ He just smiled. He’s as good as anybody as getting that free play.”
As Coleman and his crew met with reporters for about 30 minutes in the Lambeau Field media auditorium, most of the focus was on the rewritten definition of a catch. The Packers have been on both sides of the spectrum. In the playoffs two years ago against Dallas, Tony Romo’s deep pass to Dez Bryant on fourth-and-2 late in the fourth was ruled complete but overturned by Packers coach Mike McCarthy’s challenge. Had the ruling stood, the Cowboys would have been 1 yard from the go-ahead touchdown. In last year’s playoff loss at Arizona, Carson Palmer’s 22-yard pass to Larry Fitzgerald was ruled complete. McCarthy’s challenge, however, failed to change the ruling.
While the plays ended in similar fashion, with Bryant and Fitzgerald losing the ball on the way to the turf, there was one key difference.
On the Bryant play, his second step came as he was tumbling to the turf. In that case, the player must control the ball all the way to the ground. On the Fitzgerald play, he was deemed a runner because he didn’t start going to the ground until his third step.
“I think it was more obvious because he was going to the ground,” Coleman said of the Bryant play. “He was already going to the ground before his second foot actually touched the ground.”
On the Fitzgerald play, NFL officiating supervisor Gary Slaughter said: “I don’t think the Larry Fitzgerald was a true going-to-the-ground situation. As I remember the play, it was a question of how many steps he got down. If you establish yourself as a runner and then get to the ground, that’s different. Once you establish yourself as a runner, then you’ve completed that process. That’s a different scenario.”
After the Arizona game, McCarthy said: “I don’t know what the hell a catch is.”
Does he now?
“I think the league is doing a good job with continuing the education,” McCarthy said before practice. “We have an NFL rules emphasis in every team meeting. So, we've gone through the catch mechanics actually prior to the officials being here for the weekend. They've been in all our meetings. I think it's definitely cleaner, and I think the one component we all need to recognize is there's a judgment on the time-clock of it. There's still some judgment to it, it's not black and white.”
If McCarthy understands, he’s among the enlightened ones.
“There’s some teams,” Coleman said, “that still don’t know what a catch is.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.