Are Patriots Guilty of Lining Sideline on Punts? Evidence Says Yes
Over the past week, we've probably read and hear more about punt coverage than you normally do in an entire year thanks toJetsstrength coach Sal Alosi's trip ofDolphinsspecial teamerNolan Carroll.
The trip quickly made Alosi the most famous strength coach in the league, while also leading to questions of whether he'll still be in New York next year. He was suspended for the rest of the season, and recently the suspension was extended to an indefinite length after the Jets learned that Alosi had ordered players to line up as a wall on the sideline to attempt to make the Dolphins' gunners' job tougher.
But it would appear that the Jets aren't the only team that has tried to line up players to make a gunners' run through a gauntlet. In fact, Jets' special teams coach Mike Westoff singled out thePatriotsas a team that does it too.
Now let's make it clear, there's a big difference between lining up players at the border of the sideline and tripping a player. One is a piece of gamesmanship that is not illegal, even if the Jets are adding to Alosi's suspension for doing it, and the other is a clear violation of the rules.
Notice a difference when looking at the Patriots sideline? I probably don't have to tell you which one is a Steelers punt and which one is a Patriots punt. When the Patriots are running down to cover a punt, the Patriots' players on the sideline are milling around in a rather disorganized fashion, and few of them at all are up on the edge of the players/coaches box. When the Steelers are running down to cover a punt, you can count roughly 15 people (including eight players) lined up on the sideline. If you want to see for yourself, NFL.com's Game Rewind makes it possible, you can check outthis punt,this oneandone moreto get an idea of what I'm talking about.
One play does not make a trend. But in going through a couple of other games, you see the same thing. Now with television coverage we can only check out the games where the Patriots are using the "far" sideline. But there are multiple other games where that was the case. So here's aVikingspunt with the same picket fence.
Technically you could argue that the players are just lining up in preparation to go out on the field (although usually there are TV timeouts after punts that give the players minutes to get into position). But in each and every case, the players are lined up where they would cause a gunner more problems, not where they would expect the punt return to end up.
Now, it's worth repeating: There's nothing in the rule book that says a team can't line every player up at the edge of the permissible area -- this isn't evidence of cheating. It's a completely legal ploy. This is gamesmanship. And beyond that, we don't know if Patriots coaches ordered this or if the players came up with it on their own. But the Jets special teams coach's charge that the Jets aren't the only team to line the sideline to try to make the gunner's job a little tougher appears to be accurate.