New England Patriots' Continued Success Makes Spygate a Moot Point

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New England Patriots' Continued Success Makes Spygate a Moot Point
Donald Miralle/Getty Images
New England Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick (left) and Quarterback Tom Brady (right)

It was one of the biggest media stories of the decade. The Patriots had cheated their way to three Super Bowl titles, taping opponents' coaching signals and using them to gain unfair advantages in games.

During the time in question, the Patriots were caught taping the defensive hand signals of opposing coaches, decoding them, and using this information to figure out what defense the opponent was running.

Once the opposing defense is known, an offensive play can be called that takes advantage of the weakness in the defense.

This implies a couple of things:

1. Spygate had no impact on the Patriots own defense. The plays are called through the quarterback headset, without using any hand signals from the coaching staff. This means that any advantage that the Patriots obtained would have been through their own offense.

2. The team doesn't see the film until after the game because there is simply too much that coaches and players have to do during the course of the game. This means that the information is only useful if the Patriots play the team again and the other team keeps the same hand signals in the next meeting.

After the Patriots were caught for Spygate in 2007, the unfair advantage that their offense had over opposing teams would disappear and star quarterback Tom Brady would be exposed for the mediocre quarterback that he really is, right?

Was Spygate a big deal?

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Let's take a look at the progression of the Patriots' offense since Brady has become the starting quarterback:

New England Patriots Points Per Game (by season):

2001: 23.2

2002: 23.8

2003: 21.8

2004: 27.3

2005: 23.7

2006: 24.1

2007: 36.8

2008: 25.6

2009: 26.7

2010: 32.4

New England Patriots Yards Per Game (by season):

2001: 305.1

2002: 317.8

2003: 314.9

2004: 357.6

2005: 352.0

2006: 335.6

Elsa/Getty Images
New England Patriots' receiver Deion Branch

2007: 411.2

2008: 365.4

2009: 397.3

2010: 363.8

The Patriots' five highest scoring seasons were 2007, 2010, 2004, 2009, and 2008. Four of those seasons came without the help of Spygate, and two of those four were among the highest scoring seasons in NFL history. 

The four seasons in which the Patriots had the most offensive yardage are the four seasons they played without the aid of knowing their opponents' defensive signals.

So, why haven't the Patriots declined on offense?

If taping opponents' defenses was such a key role in the success of the Patriots, why has the Patriots' offense only gotten better since they were caught?

Why have the Patriots had two of the eight highest scoring seasons in NFL history in the four years since they were caught?

Patriots' starting quarterback Tom Brady's numbers have improved significantly as well:

Tom Brady 2001-2006 season averages: 316/510 completions/attempts (62.0 Completion percentage), 3,593 yards, 7.05 yards per attempt, 25 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, 88.4 quarterback rating

Al Bello/Getty Images
Tom Brady

Tom Brady 2007, 2009-2010 season averages: 364/545 completions/attempts (66.8 completion percentage), 4,368 yards, 38 touchdowns, 8 interceptions, 108.3 quarterback rating

Brady has also posted the second-best (2007) and fifth-best (2010) single season passer ratings in NFL history without Spygate.

Why hasn't Brady declined without the help of knowing what other teams are calling?

Maybe the entire issue was blown out of proportion by the media.

This is a quote from a recent interview of fomer NFL head coach Dick Vermeil when asked about Spygate:

"In all honesty, I’ve coached as a head coach 15 years and an assistant four years, I know some things that have been done in the National Football League and I could document them, if I wanted to, that are far worse than that ever came close to being."

Because of the way that the tapes were obtained, the Patriots can only use the information they obtain through Spygate in three regular season games a year, those games being the second matchup with each division rival. Let's look at their record in the second meeting between the teams compared to the first meeting.

Leon Halip/Getty Images
New England Patriots' receivers Julian Edelman (left) and Wes Welker (right)

2006:

3-0 in first meeting against divisional opponents (without access to Spygate)

1-2 in second meeting against divisional opponents (with access to Spygate)

2005:

3-0 in first meeting against divisional opponents (without access to Spygate)

2-1 in second meeting against divisional opponents (with access to Spygate)

2004:

3-0 in first meeting against divisional opponents (without access to Spygate)

2-1 in second meeting against divisional opponents (with access to Spygate)

2003:

2-1 in first meeting against divisional opponents (without access to Spygate)

3-0 in second meeting against divisional opponents (with access to Spygate)

2002:

2-1 in first meeting against divisional opponents (without access to Spygate)

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
New England Patriots' Offensive Tackle Matt Light

2-1 in second meeting against divisional opponents (with access to Spygate)

2001:

1-2 in first meeting against divisional opponents (without access to Spygate)

3-0 in second meeting against divisional opponents (with access to Spygate)

Overall:

14-4 in first meeting against divisional opponents (without access to Spygate)

13-5 in second meeting against divisional opponents (with access to Spygate)

19-5 in divisional games since 2007 (without access to Spygate)

Against the same teams, the Patriots have a slightly better record without videotaping defensive signals than they do with the defensive signals.

The sad thing about the whole controversey is that this was where the huge advantage was supposed to show up.

You can't use opponent's signals if you don't play them again. Coaches are likely to change those signals in the offseason, lest other coaches figure those signals out by virtue of seeing them on the sideline over and over again.

Teams do steal signals commonly without the use of a camera. Former Cowboys coach Jimmie Johnson said that Howard Mudd was "the best in the entire league at stealing signals." Mudd was an assistant coach for seven NFL teams, including with the Indianapolis Colts from 1998 until 2009.

Coaches know that they need to change their signals from season-to-season to prevent assistant coaches on other teams from figuring out their team's signals.

When claiming that Spygate was a very big deal for the Patriots, the stat that some people will refer to is the following:

2001-2006: 3 Super Bowl wins

2007-Present: 0 Super Bowl wins

Let's put the Super Bowl wins into context though. In the Super Bowl era, only five teams have won three Super Bowls in a ten year or shorter interval (with possibly a sixth happening tomorrow). They are:

Pittsburgh Steelers 1974-1979 (4 Super Bowl wins)

Oakland Raiders 1976-1983 (3 Super Bowl wins)

San Francisco 49ers 1981-1989 (4 Super Bowl wins)

Dallas Cowboys 1992-1995 (3 Super Bowl wins)

New England Patriots 2001-2004 (3 Super Bowl wins)

Out of these teams, the first three happened entirely before the free agency and salary cap era. The Cowboys won two of their Super Bowls before the start of free agency, making the Patriots the only team in the free agency era that has won three Super Bowls (once again that would change if the Steelers win tomorrow's game).

The point? It is exceedingly rare for a team to win three or four Super Bowls, especially in the modern era where the league is structured in a way to prevent teams from becoming perennial powerhouses.

Four seasons post-Spygate without a championship isn't a reason to slam the panic button or rename the team the "Cheatriots."

The fact that the Patriots haven't won a Super Bowl since 2004 is a reflection of how hard it is to win championships in the NFL. 

To say that the Patriots' haven't been relevant since they were caught for Spygate is misleading at best. They have a 51-13 regular season record over the past four seasons to go with three playoff appearances and one Super Bowl appearance.

That regular season record is better than the Colts (49-15) and the Steelers (43-21). That's not to say that they have been better than those teams, but it does give some context.

Rick Stewart/Getty Images
New England Patriots' Running Back Danny Woodhead

The overall success level that the Patriots have had since 2001 has been outstanding.

The offense was good with the aid of Spygate, but has been through the roof without it.

The whole point of the scandal was that taping defensive signals gave the Patriots' offense an unfair advantage, but they have gotten even better since they lost that advantage.

 

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