As you Frappe readers should already know, the Patriots beat the Ravens Saturday 35 – 31, utilizing some unusual 4 down-lineman sets that made John Harbaugh’s head spin. The reaction to this has been rather fascinating, because of course any moment in which it appears Bill Belichick is bending the rules will bring out the best (i.e. worst) in our national sports media.
I think Charles Pierce made a nice point this morning, reading through Harbaugh’s postgame quotes, you can just hear him thinking “Spygate” even though he doesn’t say it. But the truly funny thing is what a big deal people are making of all this. There was no bending the rules here. The Patriots lined up in a legal formation, and they properly notified the refs concerning ineligible receivers. That the Ravens were so unprepared for this that they didn’t even have the presence of mind to call a timeout is the only reason that this was successful. This is just a trick play that happened to be REALLY effective in this particular situation. I’ve seen several reactions intimating that the NFL competition committee will take a look at this in the offseason, and they probably will; but the idea that any new rule needs to be written as a result sounds over the top to me. (I especially love Bill Barnwell’s reaction: “I suspect that the league will quietly tell the Patriots to cut that out and make an according change to the rulebook this offseason,” because if that actually happens, I suspect Belichick’s reaction would be to quietly tell the league to go shove it.)
In my opinion, this is not the next “wildcat” offense; i.e. I do not think we will see a surge in this kind of play in the NFL. It is probably only successful when it comes with the element of surprise/confusion. In fact, it would surprise me if the we saw that play again in these playoffs, despite what offensive coordinate Josh McDaniels said earlier.
Imagine the Colts forming their defensive game plan for the AFC championship game: They’re preparing for the Patriots typical offensive formations, then they’ll spend some time preparing for the 6 offensive-linemen formations that the Patriots used to destroy them in November, and now they’ll have this new 4 offensive-linemen formation to consider. Good luck with that!