NFL: Why Patriots “playbook stealing” is just overreaction

After a recent article by MMQB‘s Greg Berdard on Mike Pettine, the media has blown up over a small anecdote in the piece that details the New England Patriots supposedly possessing a copy of the New York Jets playbook.

It’s easy to see why fans and the media alike have obsessed over this. The Patriots, notorious for the Spygate scandal of 2007, have seemingly been discovered to be at the center of another illegal scandal, and this one involves stealing vital portions of other teams’ gameplans.

This is not actually the case. This was not an illegal move by the Patriots, they weren’t stealing, and playbooks are not extremely vital portions of teams’ gameplans. Anyone who really knows football would know that playbooks get around, and it’s not a big deal when they do. Most of the members of the media who blew this up (hopefully) knew this too. The hype just came from the NFL’s lack of media substance in the offseason.

When it comes down to it, all NFL systems are the same. Football is always football. When it comes down to it, there are only so many plays and formations that teams can draw up, and only a fraction of those are effective. At the highest level of play, every team basically uses variations of the same plays and formations, and every team knows this. Differences in strategies come from teams choosing to use one formation or play type for than others.

Having a playbook doesn’t give one an advantage. Sure, it shows what plays a team may run, but there are so many that it’s practically impossible to know what a team is going to run at any given moment. Plus there are week-to-week changes that are made to a playbook in order to account for the opposing team.

Because of this, playbook sharing is a common occurrence. Teams often share playbooks cross-conference or with NCAA teams. In fact, a reported 47 teams (NFL and NCAA) have a copy of the Jets playbook.


After a simple Google search, even I was able to come up with the Jets playbook.

One would think that if these allegations were serious, the Jets would come out and blast the Patriots’ ways. But what happened was actually quite the opposite. The Jets’ head coach Rex Ryan said “Number one I think it’s disrespectful to New England to sit back and say that, ‘oh, they did this.’ Let me tell you, every single game that we’ve ever had with New England has been decided on the field.”

Greg Berdard said the whole playbook thing was just a small humorous detail that he added for fun. Mike Pettine later confirmed this by saying “I didn’t mean to imply it was gathered illegally. . . .  To me, it’s a sign of a smart team.  We’re not actively pursuing playbooks, but when they fall in your laps, you’ll study it.” Pettine also noted “most playbooks are very broad. We’ll have 80 [defensive formations] in a playbook, 30 in a game plan.  We’ll add six or seven new ones for a given game.”

Though the Patriots did get caught for cheating in 2007, there’s no proof that they still are. This is in no way a form of “illegal cheating” by the Patriots, and it is actually a common practice. Don’t look too much into it, no matter how many times the story is featured on SportsCenter.

See Greg Berdard’s full interview on the topic here: Bedard: Media misconstrued Pettine anecdote

Original article on Mike Pettine by Greg Berdard: The Accidental Coach of the Cleveland Browns

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