If you've ever watched a National Football League (NFL) game, you may have noticed that the coaching staff will regularly cover their mouths when talking into their headsets or to another player. Why exactly is that? Find out more about the tactic used by all teams in the AFC and NFC.
Why do NFL coaches cover their mouths during the game?
In a stadium with thousands of screaming fans, TV cameras watching coaches' every move, and personnel from both teams on the sidelines and in the press box, it's vital that the head coach makes the right calls to put his team in the best position to win the game.
Therefore, taking precautions to make sure the other team does not know what plays a team is going to run is of the utmost importance.
So, when you're watching an NFL game and see the coach cover their mouth with either their hand or a clipboard, they're doing that for a specific reason: The coach doesn't want the other team to read his lips.
A 2001 article by The New York Times delved into the NFL's then-latest tactic for attempting to win a football game — lip reading.
While a coach was giving the play via headset to his quarterback, the other team's coach would employ this tactic during a game in hopes of obtaining another team's signals and anticipating the upcoming play.
''Stealing signals is an old art form in the N.F.L.,'' Lovie Smith — the St. Louis Rams' defensive coordinator — told NY Times. ''But this newest thing is pretty unusual and more teams are trying it.''
'There have been rumors that has been happening. But if someone can pull it off, more power to them, because it seems extremely hard to do," then-Giants Coach Jim Fassel said. ''It may be happening, but I don't buy it is happening a lot. It's too difficult.''
While it may be more difficult for a spy to read a coach's lips while the game is happening, coaches tell the outlet that cameras zoom in while plays are being called. Opposing teams can record the game and later read the coach's lips to match up what play was called and use that knowledge for future games.
According to the pros, defensive plays are easier to steal than offensive ones. The verbiage of offensive plays is typically a lot longer and harder to decipher when reading lips. However, defensive play-calling is usually a lot shorter.
While it may seem like a bit of a far stretch, making sure the other team's coaches cannot read a coach's lips is very important.
At the time, one assistant coach in the NFL told the NY Times that he had stolen several dozen plays from five or six teams using this method.
"Cover your mouth, and your plays are safe,'' the coach, who was not identified, said. "But get careless and you're fair game."
While NFL coaches will use their hands or a clipboard to shield their lips from wandering eyes, some coaches simply cover their mouths to block out the outside noise.
Either way, it seems like this tactic will long be used among coaches during professional football games.