Spygate Fallout: Advantage, Patriots?

Ted WhitesideContributor IFebruary 16, 2008

Filming, spying, covert, allowed, not allowed, cheating, getting an edge...

In the midst of the controversy regarding Bill Belichick and the Patriots, there is one issue that has, to the best of my knowledge, never been fully explored.

Does having film of signals or a walk-through or perhaps what the opposing team is having for breakfast make any difference in the long run?

I saw an interview with Brett Favre in the heat of the "Spygate" story. He initially said that he was not too sure what having the opponents defensive signals would really mean. He intimated that the game is too fast, the signals change, defenses shift, and, in the final analysis, one has to execute their gameplan, regardless of whatever knowledge you think you might have.

Later, in the same interview, he responded to a direct question as to whether it would be an edge to "know what the defense is going to do" by saying something along the lines of, "Yeah, sure, it would be really helpful."

What I want to know is exactly how it would be an advantage. Now, on the face of it, one would seem to automatically conclude that a piece of knowledge has been acquired and therefore, by its very nature, it gives a "leg up" on the opponent.


Does that mean that the team that has captured film of the opponent's signals studies them, memorizes them, watches for them to be "signaled" from across the field, translates them, and conveys them to their quarterback?

What is the time frame in which this must be done? Are signals (defensive) always evident? Do signals change during the course of a game? Does a signal change after the initial signal? Does the quarterback look over at the other sideline to try and pick up the signal? Can the quarterback just go ahead and ask, let's say, the opposing middle linebacker "Hey, what are you guys gonna do?"

Is this why QBs like Peyton Manning and Brady are pointing at the opponents players while they're calling their plays? Do you think the opposition would tell them?

Maybe it's like, "Hey, what are you guys gonna do?"

"Oh, we're thinking about blitzing but don't worry, we're probably not going to..."

Judy Battista, from the New York Times, states, in an article written on February 3rd, 2008, "A tape of a walk-through would provide a distinct advantage to an opponent, almost certainly greater than the interception of coaches’ signals would provide."

Later, in the same article, Battista quotes lineman Adam Timmerman, former offensive lineman from the St. Louis Rams team that was defeated by the Patriots in the now controversial "filming the walk-through" incident, as saying, “We don’t do signals in the walk-through. They just send the play in. It’d be very limited. If it was me and you gave me the film from the walk-through, would I think it really had an advantage going into the game? Probably not.”

Timmerman thinks that at least the filming of walk-throughs is probably not a game-changer. What about signals previously deciphered and now detected or identified during a game?

By way of trying to determine the exact steps in utilizing the "stolen" information within the setting of the game itself, one needs to look at the process of using this information.

Again, there are doubts about the true benefits. For example, former General Manager of the Dallas Cowboys, Gil Brandt, says the transmission from coaches to the quarterback's helmets cuts off with 10 seconds left on the play clock. He believes that doesn't allow for enough time to see what the other team called, decipher it, come up with a counter strategy and then get it out to the field in time.

There's no doubt that the Patriots violated a directive from the Commissioner's office. Interestingly enough neither the NFL or any other legitimate entity has ever used the expression "breaking a rule," primarily because the real rule only relates to the environment in which taping can take place.

Specifically, the rule dictates the setting as one that must be enclosed on three sides and have a roof. Seemingly the NFL is trying to prohibit the taping from the sidelines. The rule does not speak to what can be taped and places no prohibition on the "target" of the taping.

The directive was a reiteration of the rule regarding placement of the video equipment and was issued by NFL Commissioner Goodell before the 2007 season. One still struggles to understand what the real game-time advantages are as they relate to securing defensive (or offensive, for that matter) signals.

Dan Rooney, chairman of the Pittsburgh Steelers, said in light of knowledge that the Patriots taped the Steelers' coaches during the AFC Championship Games in 2001 and 2004, "We consider the tapes of our coaching staff during our games against the New England Patriots to be a non-issue. In our opinion, they had no impact on the results of those games."

So the search goes on: is there an advantage? The popular opinion, of course, seems to be a resounding "yes."

It appears that there is no separation between the improper act of filming and its subsequent, seemingly inherent, advantage. Maybe so. The logical argument would of course be, "Why would they do it if there was no advantage?"

And the answer is...?