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The Patriots and Perpetual Line-Stepping on the Rules

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This is not an attack piece on the Patriots as the headline should suggest, in fact it's far from it.

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

We've seen every cheating label in the book thrown at the Patriots. Legions of fans from teams the Patriots destroyed in the last 15 years have jumped on that narrative, especially considering the Patriots were a mediocre franchise before the Robert Kraft-Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era began in September 2001. First it was Spygate, then Deflategate/Defarcegate. When the Patriots took the punishment for Spygate, those fans automatically assumed the Patriots were guilty and the narrative hasn't changed since. In my opinion, it doesn't matter what fans of other teams think about and I'm sure you all are thinking the same.

Last month, former Patriots linebacker Matt Chatham ran a poll about teams being perpetual line-steppers. The three options on the poll were the Patriots, Packers, and Any Not Dumb Team. Here are the results:

Any Not Dumb Team took the poll at 73%, which shows that teams are looking for advantages. Now you can question some of the validity of the poll since Chatham's main follower demographic is going to be Patriots fans. If you gave that same poll to NFL coaches, players, and executives, I would expect similar results. Teams that don't take advantage of the rules in their favor are a step behind the rest of the field.

Some of the stuff they tried in the 2014 season and the explanation behind is in the Do Your Job documentary:

6:09 for 4 OL formation
16:20 for Nate Solder TD
25:03 for Using Formations, Motions, and Personnel to Dictate Match-Ups

The reason why the Patriots, Packers, Steelers, and Seahawks are contending every year, they are always trying to figure out how to use the rulebook to their advantage. In some cases, some teams go a bit far like the Seahawks holding more full-contact practices than allowed by the CBA, Aqib Talib intentionally grabbing the facemask of a Panthers player to prevent a would-be touchdown, or the Patriots taping signals from an illegal location based off a memo instead of an actual rule. Teams get punished for violations and we all move on, unless the NFL goes on a Power Trip like last offseason. In that case, that's why you have a players association and the judicial system to sort those problems out, although I can't imagine what Judge Richard M. Berman's reaction about getting a hotly-contested court case over 0.2 PSI.

The Patriots no doubt are perpetual line-steppers when it comes to the rulebook. They stretch the rules as far as they go without breaking them, because that's what any not dumb team will do. When the team needs a spark, the Patriots will use unorthodox plays and formations to baffle their opponents. There are plenty of examples from the past, whether it's the fake FG TD pass to Troy Brown, the 4 OL formation, or the Julian Edelman Double Pass. In the NFL, the margin of error is very small and gets even smaller in the playoffs, so one play could be the difference between a Lombardi Trophy at 1 Patriot Place or a Lombardi Trophy going somewhere else.

There's no question the Patriots are perpetual line-steppers when it comes to the rules. Any Not Dumb team would do the same. The one thing that makes this Patriots team great is not just because of their ability to understand the rules, but also through hard work and not taking shortcuts. There are no shortcuts to greatness in sports, and the Patriots know that for sure.