Spotlight on spygate
FOXBOROUGH - This week's mailbag is split down the middle - half videotape, half football. Between the two topics, the mailbag could have been about 10 times the size it was. Emailers have been especially passionate this week and there is no one prevailing line of thinking. A lot of different opinions are reflected in the mailbag.
We'll get right to it.
How much time does the offense have to deliver the play to the quarterback and is the communication shut down 10 seconds before the play clock hits zero? If it is 10 to 15 seconds do you think the coaching staff would have enough time to decipher the defense signals and relay the defense info to the quarterback? Do you think the Eric Mangini and other coaches are so far behind our coach that they could not change play signals to use as counter intelligence and confuse the Patriot's coaching staff putting them at an advantage? Could our new motto be "Just win, baby"?
Gary Champa, Charlotte, N.C.
A: The coach-to-quarterback communication shuts down with 15 seconds left on the play clock, or when the ball is snapped. If all the stars were aligned, and the coaches processed the defensive signal with the defensive personnel on the field, I do think it's possible there could be time to relay that information to the quarterback. But you also have to account for the fact that one pre-snap shift could change everything. On the whole, I think the on-field impact is minimal. But my feeling is that the Patriots were doing it with the idea that if it works once, and it works on the one play that often decides a game, it was worth it. The premise is that the more information you have at your disposal to make a decision, you increase your odds to make a better decision.
Now I agree that BB and his staff were cheating using that videotape, but I really don't think it's all that big of a deal. I believe that most, if not all, teams in the NFL are doing something similar. They just aren't doing it in ways that they will be caught. Now my question, if Belichick had two members of his staff simply watching their defensive coordinators with binoculars and recording exactly what they were doing before and after each play of the game, would that be against the rules? I guess I disagree with the rule because there are ways to record this info without the use of a video camera. Your thoughts?
Peter Glore, Boxford
A: My thoughts are that not every team is doing this. Seattle coach Mike Holmgren told me last week that one of the things that bothered him was the remarks that "every team does it, and the Patriots just got caught." He insisted that not every team does it, and I believe him. As for the second part of the question, this to me, hits at the heart of the issue. Every team has advance scouts, who watch the game and study signals, often through binoculars. That is within the rules. But the rules specifically state that the signals of coaches can not be videotaped, and the Patriots crossed that line. I believe the rule is a good one. So for those who ask "What's the big deal", to me the answer is that it's a big deal because the league specifically has a rule prohibiting that activity.
OK, Mike, the Pats were caught doing something they weren't supposed to be doing. But, given today's technology, what's to prevent someone who is sitting in the stands from doing the same thing? Rules are rules, but does this rule about taping on the sidelines really make sense?
DeRoss Kellogg, Bethel, Vt.
A: This was a popular line of thinking among some emailers. A fan could conceivably tape those signals. But to me, the rule makes sense because at some point, you have to draw the line on how much technology you'll allow into the game. As someone overseeing the integrity of the game, as Roger Goodell does, he needs to ensure a level playing field and that everyone is playing by the same rules. I can see this being hard to regulate, but you have to have some baseline for rules, and the NFL's sanctions against the Patriots should make teams think twice from videotaping signals, whether on the sidelines, in the stands, or anywhere else.
Why is the NFL requesting all notes and tapes from the spying incident? Wasn't the tape confiscated by the NFL? Why the continued "witch hunt"? I thought that was the end of it unless he was brazen enough to do it again, which I doubt will ever happen.
Andrew Chea, The Bahamas
A: The way I understand it, Commissioner Roger Goodell wants not just the tape from the Jets game, but any other video and notes from past games/years because of the explanation/interpretation he heard from Bill Belichick as to why the tapes were produced in the first place. I believe Belichick told Goodell that he never used the tapes for a competitive advantage during the game, but as part of offseason preparations when studying opponents. Goodell wants those tapes/notes because he believes that is a violation of league rules.
After BB's statement last week, I have tried to find a complete copy of the NFL's "Constitution and Bylaws", but have been unable to do so. Can you help? I am especially interested in the text in the C&B that has not been quoted by the press regarding the video controversy. Have you looked into the text more closely?
A: Here is the text from the Constitution & Bylaws regarding the videotaping of signals: "Any use by any club at any time, from the start to the finish of any game in which such club is a participant, of any communications or information-gathering equipment, other than Polaroid-type cameras or field telephones, shall be prohibited, including without limitation videotape machines, telephone tapping, or bugging devices, or any other form of electronic devices that might aid a team during the playing of a game."
My question is this, and maybe I'm just being a blind fan, but is anyone (coaches, players, reporters, management) discussing Eric Mangini and his role in all of this? Now the Jets (Mangini) want a further investigation about additional possible violations? What is the motivation, except to stick it to a former boss? Have you heard how the Jets (Mangini) feel about his former boss having to pay one half million out of his pocket. I know what Belichick did is wrong and he should be punished, but when does Mangini start to look like a whiner? Your thoughts?
Bill Betley, Corona, Calif.
A: From what I understand, the Jets are not specifically ordering up a second investigation. If anything, it's the NFL that is driving the bus on that one based on information it has heard from other clubs. That said, the role of Mangini probably deserves some exploration. I believe Mangini feels his loyalty is to the Jets, not Belichick, and if he can hurt the opposition than he is simply doing his job. He'd probably tell people close to him that is exactly what Belichick would teach him to do. My personal feeling is that it's too bad it has reached this point. I thought Belichick and Mangini would ultimately reconcile, and felt it was headed toward that direction this offseason, but I wouldn't be surprised if they never speak again.
Mike, Can you please clarify the Hines Ward comments about how the Pats D seemed to know all of the play the Steelers offense was calling in The 2002 AFC championship game? My understanding was that the Pats were taping defensive signals. Offense is radioed into the quarterback correct. So how could they be stealing offensive calls?
Aggie Makonnen, Lynn
A: Looking back, I think Hines Ward's comments were a classic case of piling on. You're right. Ward was saying the Patriots knew what the Steelers' offense was doing, when in actuality, the whole issue was about videotaping defensive signals.
I'm probably not the only one asking this, but how does the "video" get leaked to Fox? Doesn't this indicate that Goodell has a problem within his own staff?
Mike R., Cincinnati, Ohio
A: My first instinct was that the NFL wanted the video out there, so it wasn't as much of a leak as it was a statement to the Patriots and other teams - basically saying "hey, if you do this, here is some public embarrassment to be had." But after hearing NFL spokesman Greg Aiello say how concerned the NFL was that the tape was out there, which seemed like sincere thoughts, I'm reconsidering my take on that one.
I was wondering about the draft pick(s) that are to be penalized in the next season. Which team would be the beneficiary of the selections for the first round pick or the combination of lower picks? Would it be awarded the Jets as compensation of some sort or given to the worst teams in a lottery?
Toby Clark, Winter Park, Fla.
A: No other club receives those draft picks. In the event the Patriots make the playoffs, and lose their first-round pick, the first round will include 31 picks instead of the normal 32.
I am trying to get a perspective on this spygate punishment. Has the NFL ever fined a person $500,000? If so, who and for what? Has a team ever been fined a 1st round draft pick? If this is a precedent, then it seems like a harsh punishment. Or is what the Patriots did one of the worst crimes in the history of the NFL?
A: The $500,000 fine is the maximum the NFL could have given a coach for violating that rule. A team has never lost a first-round pick. It is a harsh punishment. I've heard from both sides of the issue. Some believe it's too harsh. Others believe it's too lenient. Which to me means it's probably just right.
Doesn't the reported contract extension Belichick got soften the blow from the $500,000 fine? I think he's earned an extension. The timing of it just makes the fine less significant.
Matthew Gannon, Norton
A: Sure, it softens the financial side of the NFL penalty. But it doesn't soften the public hit the Patriots have taken on this one, which to me, is the greatest penalty of all. Robert Kraft often talks about how proud he is of the "Patriots brand" and what that means. That brand, and coach Bill Belichick, took a major whack over the last week. The contract extension doesn't make that go away.
Regarding the ruling on "Spygate", I was under the impression that Belichick was to defend himself in a Friday meeting with Commissioner Goodell. Is this an example of rush to judgment? It certainly seems precipitous if the defendant doesn't get a chance to speak in his defense.
Brian T. O'Brien, Hampton, N.H.
A: Belichick spoke with Goodell via telephone early last week and presented his defense. There was never anything set up for him to meet with Goodell on Friday.
Screen shot photos have surfaced showing a camera man in on the Jets sidelines during the videogate game. He wasn't wearing a vest and had on a Jets polo shirt. Is it possible he was someone other than a Jets employee? And if he was a Jets employee why has there been no mention of this?
Rick Power, Framingham
A: I saw the screen shot and everything was above board. There was no illegal activity by the Jets. There were members of the Patriots' in-house television crew on the sidelines of Sunday's game as well.
Now that the hammer has come down, and assuming the Patriots make the playoffs, will they try to take the better of the two first-round picks the Pats?
Jim, Bryan, Ohio
A: Assuming the Patriots make the playoffs, they will keep the first-round pick acquired from the 49ers and surrender their own.
I heard that the Krafts cannot pay Bill's fine for him. What is to stop them from giving Bill a $500,000 bonus?
Carl Kaplan, Winchester
A: The thing that would stop them more than anything is the fact they would be deceiving Commissioner Roger Goodell. They respect Goodell. They like him. They were champions for him to get the job in the first place. I would be surprised if the Krafts went behind his back on this one.
Will all the piling on of the Patriots by the national press, I have yet to see these news outlets examine whether other teams have committed any sins. How about the Jets? Has the NFL commissioner privately warned any other NFL teams about rule-breaking? We broke the rules and rightly got punished but the holier-than-thou attitude by some pundits, teams and players is getting nauseating.
Dan, Alexandria, Va.
A: The NFL sent out a memo to all 32 clubs this week reminding them of the league's procedures regarding videotaping and electronic surveillance.
This was a game that sent a message to the rest of the league that this team has the makings of one the best Patriot teams ever assembled. That said, one of the areas of greatest concern to me is the kicking game. We had one horrible punt and a missed field goal. I like the deeper kickoffs from Gostkowski but the fact remains that in his 2 years with the Pats he has yet to attempt a late-in-the-game tying or game winning field goal. What's our back-up plan if either of these guys gets injured or can't get the job done?
Paul Lynn, Missoula, Mont.
A: On the pressure kicks with Gostkowski, I thought he held up well in the playoffs last year, when he was 8 of 8, including a 43-yarder with 3:49 left to play in the AFC Championship that made it 34-31. But you're right, he hasn't had that Vinatieri moment just yet, splitting the uprights with no time left to win or tie. With both Gostkowski and Hanson, the fallback plans are with free agents. A few of the available free agents are Billy Cundiff, Josh Huston, Nick Novak and Mike Vanderjagt at kicker; and Josh Miller, Scott Player, and Glenn Pakulak at punter.
Two quickies: Any idea which defender was "overpowered" and also what Ed Hochuli said to the teams in their huddles?
Glenn Williams, Barrington, R.I.
A: I think it was veteran outside linebacker Chad Brown, who was on the wrong end of a collision with fullback Lorenzo Neal. As for what Hochuli said, I believe he was maintaining order by telling the players not to step out of line. He might have felt the game was getting out of control.
Early in the first half Rosevelt Colvin was called for a "defensive delay of game," a 5-yard penalty. Replays showed that he pointed to an offensive lineman as if to suggest to the refs that the lineman had moved. I thought this was an unusual penalty to call since linbackers often try to draw lineman offsides by causing them to flinch. Is this a new rule or is this just a penalty that is rarely called?
A: Defensive players can not make a motion and try to simulate and cause a false start, which is what referee Ed Hochuli felt Colvin did. It was ruled that Colvin did not simply jump, but specifically made a motion with his hands to induce a false start. Ravens coach Brian Billick felt the Jets were doing the same thing on Sunday, and it wasn't called, so I'm sure the league will be taking a closer look at this and might make it a point of emphasis for officials.
I was surprised to see Ryan O'Callaghan listed as taking snaps at tight end. Makes a lot of sense. Has that been reported before, and I just missed it? Dave Symmes, Danvers
A: Since the Patriots have dressed just two pure tight ends on game days with David Thomas still working his way back - and has wanted to use a power package with three tight ends in each of the first two games -- O'Callaghan has been called upon as the third tight end. He's basically playing tackle, just one spot over. The Patriots used the package 12 times in the season opener and 11 times Sunday. Receiver Randy Moss has scored two touchdowns out of that package.
What's your take on Yates getting the start over Hochstein at RG?
Burkie In Boston, Ashland
A: At first, I was surprised, although Yates did play there last year when Neal was sidelined. As it turned out, Yates and Hochstein split time Sunday. I believe each played about two quarters.
Great game against the Chargers. However, I didn't see much of an impact from Stallworth this game or the game before. The ball was thrown a few times his way for some completions but also some incompletions. It doesn't look like he's getting the separation he needs nor has the synergy with Tom Brady yet. He's supposed to be one of the fastest players on the team, but I have yet to see him use the speed before the throw or after the catch. What's your take so far on Stallworth?
W. Yee, Monson
A: Stallworth totaled two receptions for 19 yards in Sunday's win, and one catch for 19 yards in the opener. He played just nine snaps in the opener and 39 against the Chargers. Right now, I think you're seeing a situation where Moss is just simply on another level and that is taking away from the production of someone like Stallworth, who would be lining up on the opposite side of the field in two-wide sets.
If Randy Moss continues to play like this throughout the season, is he pricing himself out of the Patriots' reach or is he playing his way into a job here long term?
A: Well, it's just two games, so it's too early to say determine this. To me, the main question is whether Moss might want to stay regardless, realizing that this is the type of place he can maximize his talents as long as a fair offer is presented.
I noticed in the game the other day that Maroney seemed to be dancing a little bit behind the line in the first half. When they came out for the second half it seemed like they were going to Sammy Morris a little bit more. When Maroney got back in, he seemed to be attacking the line much better. Do you think the coaches took him out to send a message, or at least said something to him about the dancing?
A: No, I don't think that's why they took Maroney out. I think the coaching staff was basically rotating series with the backs over the course of the game. But there were several emails to the mailbag this week expressing some concern that Maroney isn't consistently hitting the hole hard enough, and is dancing behind the line of scrimmage. I would agree with those thoughts.
Kevin Faulk is such an unsung hero. Early in the game, he covered this incoming blitzer so hard, they both were in mid air, horizontal while Kevin twisted and wrestled the guy twice his size to the ground. No holding, just pure power. But that's not the question. The questions is, having picked against the Pats two weeks in a row, are you on board yet?
A: Faulk's pickup of that blitz up the middle on the opening drive might have been the underrated play of the game. It allowed Tom Brady the extra time to connect with Wes Welker on a 34-yard completion. As for my picks against the point spread, I don't recommend following my line of thinking. My track record speaks for itself, and it's not very good.
Am I wrong or were there no New England screen passes against the Chargers? The downfield passing game is spectacular. Is Kyle Brady making a big difference with pass protection? Tom Brady is obviously on the same page with Moss and Welker; how long do you think it will be before the same happens with Stallworth?
Bevan Manson, Santa Monica, Calif.
A: There were no screens in this game. Kyle Brady is making a difference in pass protection, and he's been one of the team's unsung performers through the first two games, playing in 97 of a possible 127 snaps. He hasn't caught a pass yet, but has been solid as a blocker. Now I see why the Patriots were so aggressive in signing him in free agency, pouncing on the first day. He's a difference maker in the blocking game. As for Stallworth, it's only two games, so let's give it some more time.
My question is where has Brandon Meriweather been? Is he hurt, or not as good as we believed he would be?
Shaun Fair, Elkridge, Md.
A: Meriweather has been on the 45-man, game-day active roster for the first two contests. From what I've seen, he's been playing in the dime package (six defensive backs) and on special teams. Starter Eugene Wilson is off to a strong start, and Meriweather is behind him on the depth chart.
This isn't really a question -- more of a general request. Could you inform us of who plays on the Pats special teams, like kickoff and punt returns and kickoff and punt coverage -- similar to your blog breakdown of who plays the most snaps and what formations the Pats are using. Special teams is so important and such a focus when it comes to roster spots, it would be interesting to serious fans to know who is playing on which special teams units.
A: Moving forward, that is something we'll work on doing. On Sunday night, the kickoff return team had Benjamin Watson, Eric Alexander, Larry Izzo, Chad Brown, Mel Mitchell, Heath Evans, Le Kevin Smith, Pierre Woods, Russ Hochstein, Ellis Hobbs and Willie Andrews. Meanwhile, the kickoff coverage team had Willie Andrews, Sammy Morris, Brandon Meriweather, Pierre Woods, Chad Brown, Larry Izzo, Kelley Washington, Mel Mitchell, Eric Alexander, Randall Gay and Stephen Gostkowski.
Mike, when do you list defensive snaps played, as you do with the "O" on your blog?
A: I haven't gotten to the defensive snaps yet, as I'm figuring out a way to chart that, in addition to the offense. I tried it in the season finale last year, but couldn't keep up with the pace of the game.
Why do the Pats change punt returners, often multiple times during the same game? Welker can look great, then the next time it might be Faulk. They've done it that way for years and I don't recall other teams doing that.
Rob Pell, Grants Pass, Ore.
A: I think what you're referring to is when the Patriots are fielding a punt deep in their own territory. They usually put Faulk in that specific situation, because he has sure hands. So he's the "safe" punt returner, while Welker is likely to take the returns at all other points on the field.
Just curious how many snaps Asante Samuel is getting. Is he getting the lion's share of snaps at CB?
Mac Blythe, Newton
A: Samuel is getting the majority of snaps. Randall Gay has started both games at left corner, but Samuel has come on in the second series and essentially gone the rest of the way.
I know it's only been 2 games, but do you think it's possible this team is better than the already high expectations that most people thought? The offense has literally been unstoppable, and the defense is missing two key starters and have still been able to stop the Jets and Chargers. One writer mentioned that baring injuries, this is probably best BB's best team and has a chance to be one of the best in recent history. Do you agree?
Nick Marotta, Montreal, Quebec
A: Yes. Right now, it's the Patriots, Colts and everyone else.
I noticed that the captains uniform's no longer had the "C" on the front. Any idea why?
A: Teams have the choice as to whether they want their captains to wear the C. The Patriots have elected not to do so. I'm assuming the Chargers are in the same category.
Any idea when the last time the Patriots played a game and never punted? They've seemed awfully close to doing that these past two games.
Glenn Williams, Brighton
A: The Patriots have punted just once in each of their first two games. Prior to this season, there had been only 12 games in franchise history that the team punted just once. There were three games in franchise history when the team has not punted at all, the most recent coming Nov. 12, 1978 in a 26-23 loss to Houston at Schaefer Stadium.