Quieter game-day atmospheres create communication challenges for Lions, NFL teams

By Justin Rogers, The Detroit News on

Published in Football

During a typical season, NFL teams dedicate a portion of their week ahead of road games planning how to combat noise. They simulate it in practice, with sound systems blaring loud music, while devising hand signals and silent counts to counter the inability to clearly communicate verbally.

This year, one where the COVID-19 pandemic has locked fans out of the majority of stadiums, and even in the instances where a small capacity percentage are allowed through the gates, the bigger issue for NFL teams is the absence of the traditional sounds of game day.

The Lions played their season opener at Ford Field with no fans.

Sure, there's the ambient hum of league-approved crowd noise, modestly capped at 70 decibels, but that does little to conceal communication from the sidelines that isn't used to being heard.

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"There will be new types of strategy involved," Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers said last week. "The metaphorical jazz hands will be the understanding that everything you say now is heard by the TV copy, as you've seen with some of these hot mics in golf or on the basketball court. There's just kind of a lot more information out there. There's going to be a need to change code words probably more often than years past."


Lions offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell acknowledges the team has always scouted the broadcast of opponents' games, looking for any hidden advantage. But that's seemingly taken on a greater importance with how much more can be heard this season.

And while the extent of the impact remains unclear, given teams have only played one game, there's a healthy paranoia coursing through the minds of many players and coaching staffs.

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"That's one of the things I think we're just beginning to learn, take a look at, even in-game situations," Bevell said. "You know, how much are they hearing? How much are they able to decipher? There were a couple times you could hear the Bears yelling from the sideline. Then, being able to go back to the TV copy - there's always coaches involved in going back to the TV copy - just seeing what you can glean from that. We're doing everything that we can to be able to help ourselves in those situations. And I think it's really a learning experience for all of us right now, with the way these games are going and the new low hum of the crowd noise.


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