By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston


BOSTON (CBS) — John Harbaugh had a serious problem with the Patriots using creative (yet legal) formations that mixed & matched eligible and ineligible receivers in their AFC Divisional win over the Ravens.

You may remember when Harbaugh said: “We wanted an opportunity to be able to identify who the eligible players were, because what they were doing was they would announce the eligible player and Tom [Brady] would take it to the line right away and snap the ball before [we] even figured out who was lined up where. And that was the deception part of it. It was clearly deception.”

“It’s not something that anybody has ever done before…The league will look at that type of thing, and I’m sure they’ll make some adjustments and things like that.”

Well, Harbaugh is apparently satisfied with the NFL’s rule adjustments, because he used a similar tactic in the Baltimore Ravens’ loss to the Oakland Raiders on Sunday.

The Ravens lined up guard Marshall Yanda out wide off the line, while tight end Crockett Gilmore lined up as a tackle. Neither player was required to report as eligible or ineligible, and Gilmore got the ball. Here’s a clip of the formation:

The new rule states that players with eligible jersey numbers (basically anything besides No. 50-79 or 90-99) must line up in the tackle box on the line of scrimmage. Players with ineligible numbers (in this case, offensive linemen) can still line up outside, which makes the formations considerably less tricky. The Patriots fooled Harbaugh and the Ravens when they lined up Shane Vereen out wide as an ineligible receiver and left Michael Hoomanawanui wide open.

This confirms that Harbaugh’s problem with the Patriots was never about the formations themselves, but the way it confused him and forced the officials to work a little harder to keep up. Basically, he was mad that the Patriots made him and his defense look like headless chickens. Neither he nor the refs could keep up with what the Patriots were doing. A classic “chess vs. checkers” situation.

Harbaugh complained that the Ravens didn’t have enough time to get the right personnel in because they didn’t know who was eligible or ineligible – never mind that the ineligible receivers blared through the Gillette PA system. Which is sort of like complaining about a hurry-up offense not letting your defense line up in time.

But now, apparently Harbaugh is OK with getting creative with his formations now that he’s doing it. Nobody’s being confused or emasculated, so it’s fine. But as you know, Lord Belichick is not against inflicting mental penetration on the officials and his opponents with his savvy (again, legal) tactics on the field. And even though Harbaugh said nobody’s ever seen those formations before, Belichick got the idea from the Tennessee Titans, as well as his friend Nick Saban at Alabama.

A lot of fans, particularly in New England, may look at this and call it “cheating” or “deception” or call Harbaugh a “hypocrite”. In a way, he is. But his problem was never with the formations; it was with his ego. He couldn’t stand how badly the Patriots outsmarted him on those plays, and decided he won’t be outsmarted again. He also realized it was just good coaching – borrowing coaching ideas from Belichick is a pretty good idea.

So now that the rule has been changed and no one will be embarrassed, Harbaugh will use the formations. And maybe opposing fans can stop whining about them too and accept that they were legal and their coach got Belichick’d.

Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for CBSBostonSports.com and reported as ineligible on this post. His opinions do not necessarily reflect that of CBS or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Read more from Matt here and follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff.

This post was updated to reflect inaccurate and/or misleading information about NFL officials.

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