We got them! Those dirty cheaters are at it again. The Patriots, or a video team associated with them, got caught filming the Bengals’ sidelines when Cincinnati took on the Browns. Take away all the draft picks. Fine them all the money. They were cheating … or were they?

I understand why you wouldn’t trust the Patriots at all. They were caught filming signals in 2007 and had the DeflateGate saga, where the pressure of the game balls were altered to a more desirable firmness for Tom Brady (real quickly: every QB does this). The Patriots have been accused of filming practices and turning off the communication head sets before too. They’ve gotten in trouble before and each time the “why” has made sense.

I’m not a conspiracy guy. I’m a “why” guy. Why did this happen? Why would someone do something? For what purpose? And that is where I’m at with this story. Why did the Patriots do what they are accused of doing? So with that focus, I give you my thoughts on this new scandal.

The latest update about the incident came from Paul Dehner Jr. of The Athletic:

According to sources who have viewed the tape, it shows about eight minutes of footage focusing on recording the Bengals’ sideline. It’s a direct view of the sideline as players run on and off the field and coaches make signals for plays.

What we know is the Patriots’ video crew was on location filming an episode of their in-house show Do Your Job. They were following an advanced scout who was there doing work for the Patriots’ upcoming game against the Bengals. They had a camera crew credentialed for the game and that crew was caught filming the Bengals’ sideline. That was allegedly outside their duties for the show. It’s possible this was B-roll footage — we don’t know.

However, the footage was deemed not proper by the Bengals, who viewed what was recorded and then sent a copy to the league office. They have the right to be suspicious because the nature of this recording was eerily similar to the 2007 SpyGate incident.

Via ESPN’s Outside the Lines:

The Patriots’ videographers were told to look like media members, to tape over their team logos or turn their sweatshirt inside out, to wear credentials that said Patriots TV or Kraft Productions. The videographers also were provided with excuses for what to tell NFL security if asked what they were doing: Tell them you’re filming the quarterbacks. Or the kickers. Or footage for a team show.

The issue I have with this story is people have reported things without knowing how a sideline functions during an NFL game. Let me explain.

NFL teams rarely use hand signals anymore

Back in 2007, the Patriots were caught in SpyGate, where they filmed the opposing team’s defensive signals. At that time, only the offensive staff was able to communicate via radio to the helmet of the quarterback for the playcall. Since SpyGate, the NFL has allowed one defender to wear the green dot helmet — green dot is the player with the audio — to radio in defensive playcalls.

1. Unless the radios are down, signals are rarely used to send in playcalls.

As you can see in the first quarter, Bengals player No. 36 (Shawn Williams) is telling the defense the playcall as he’s getting it from his coach. Nothing is being sent via signal.


Bengals safety Shawn Williams tells his teammates the play call

2. Adjustments are not made with signals.

I watched the first quarter of the game on the all-22 film to make sure I was correct. Not a single Bengals player looked over to the sidelines to see if a coach was giving them an adjustment based off the offensive formation/hunch of that upcoming play.

A defensive playcall, like an offensive one, has built-in adjustments to what is presented to you according to the formation or alignment. This is NOT college football, where adjustments and play signals are used because there’s no radio communication at that level.

3. There’s no time for adjustment signals sent from a coach in the NFL.

For example, an offense breaks the huddle with 20 seconds on the play clock. They get the ball, and as the clock ticks down, they motion someone across. Oh no, the look changes for the defense.

But! They know the adjustments based off the huddle call. They aren’t looking over to the sidelines to get that adjustment, or the offense would snap the ball when they did. The defense would be left flat-footed. There’s no time for that to occur.

4. Just because plays are signaled into the field doesn’t mean there’s no communication via hand signals on the sidelines.

Personnel groupings — like how many skill players on offense or how many pass rushers on defenses, etc — do get signals at times. But there’s no surprise as to what players are on the field. The opponents can see that themselves. In fact, it’s often the job of an offensive lineman to call out what personnel the defense was in before the playcall is even said.

If the radios are down, or defensive backs are late to the huddle, or maybe a special stunt is not relayed properly, a defensive coach might signal in that playcall. But that’s a rarity. So if the Patriots instructed that film crew to attempt to pick up on these rare instances of hand signals, then it was a bold move for them, especially getting caught trying to film the one-win Bengals.

I know it’s odd to give the Patriots the benefit of the doubt, but it would be foolish to get in trouble for filming that.

If the Patriots were trying to gain information, what would they be looking for?

Knowing that play signals weren’t available, maybe they were trying to record audio of the Bengals making adjustments on the sidelines after a drive is over. But that information is more specific to a single play that happened against an offensive or defensive look. It would be extremely difficult to use that information for the next week.

We know Bill Belichick studies opposing coaches during games to gather clues according to body language. Could they be recording the new coaching staff in Cincinnati for that reason? Possibly. But again, it feels like they didn’t need to do that directly from the sidelines.

Pending more evidence, like seeing the video or some punishment that outlined in detail what the Patriots did record, I think this is much ado about nothing. It’s a big story because it’s the Patriots, and they’ve been caught doing this before. However, they will be fined and/or lose a draft pick because of their sloppy handling of this situation. I would agree with that.



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