I am a Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and formerly Bleacher Report's AFC North Lead Writer. An NFL analyst by trade, I cover every possible angle the NFL and its perpetual cycle of news has to offer, from game previews and recaps, deep analytical dives into stats and trends, pre- and post-draft breakdowns, to personnel and coaching changes and critique and opinion. Born and raised in Western Pennsylvania, football is in my blood. It's all I do, and I'm proud to be doing it here.
You can follow me on Twitter (@FBALL_Andrea) for around-the-clock NFL news and musings.
My irregularly-updated NFL blog, F*BALL and the weekly F*BALL NFL Podcast can be found here: http://f-ball.tumblr.com, at http://fball.podomatic.com or via iTunes. I also cover fantasy football for Pro Football Focus.
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SCIENCE, DEFLATEGATE AND THE NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE
DeflateGate has erupted onto the National stage, and seems poised to stay there through Superbowl Sunday and beyond. It has been a fascinating, tortured soap opera that has vexed most of us and brought out the worst in some of us. What if this controversy can be resolved through a more reasoned process? What if it could provide a teachable moment for the country about how justice and fairness can be undermined by our collective ignorance of established science and fact, and how what we don't know can distort our beliefs and actions? It is with such high hopes that I share these thoughts with you about under-inflated footballs.
To determine if the New England Patriots have violated NFL rules about ball inflation, the main question is, "Was the drop in ball pressure due to natural causes or tampering?" As Coach Belichick explained last Saturday, the best way to truly answer this question is to do an experiment. Before such an experiment, a scientist will need to form a testable hypothesis, a prediction, based on the facts of the situation and what is known about natural laws. In this case, the relevant physical law is the Ideal Gas Law (Pressure x Volume = n x R x Temperature) combined with the fact that friction generates heat.
Check out this informative video which also explains the science behind the pressure-drop: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hf8oQ4rhR-A
THE FOUR PHYSICAL PHASES OF DEFLATEGATE
Knowing the conditions at the AFC Championship game and how the Patriot’s footballs were treated, it’s not hard to anticipate the result based on the four different physical phases the balls went through. The logical prediction is that ball pressure would drop significantly below the NFL minimum 12.5 psi. In fact, this is a certainty:
1) Rubbing Phase - Before the AFC Championship game, Brady's balls were in the locker room, where the air temperature was likely 70-75 degrees. His balls were then rubbed vigorously for a substantial preparation period. The rubbing created heat from friction. The heat increased the air Temperature in the footballs above the indoor temperature. The warm air couldn't expand the footballs by much, so the Pressure would increase.
2) Cooling Phase A - Brady's warmed balls were given to referee Walt Anderson, who was asked to set the pressure at 12.5 psi. The warmed balls stayed in the official's locker room for over 2 hours and gradually cooled back to the indoor temperature. This initial drop in Temperature would result in a corresponding drop in Pressure (approx 1 psi per Coach Belichick).
3) Cooling Phase B - 10 minutes before kickoff, the balls were taken by NFL staff to the sideline. The temperature was approximately 50 degrees, but would have been lower on surfaces exposed to rain and wind-chill. Over the course of the first half, Brady's wet balls would have cooled to below 50 degrees. This second drop in ball Temperature would result in a further drop in ball Pressure (psi).
4) Stretching Phase - In addition, the leather of a wet football stretches, increasing the Volume inside it. Increased ball Volume would cause a third drop in ball Pressure (psi). Did you see the condition of the balls? Several pictures show them dripping wet and soaked through in the hands of the players and referees. The leather would have stretched - how much would have to be determined by experiment.
Taken together, these physical and climate factors would definitely drop the pressure in the footballs to substantially below the 12.5 psi set, per NFL protocol, by officials 2 hours pregame. This is not a possibility, it is a certainty.
Just like when you hold a solid object in your hand then let it go, it will fall according to physical laws (gravity), so it is that whenever a referee in their locker room inflates a warmed ball to the lower limit of 12.5 psi, then takes it out into cold, wet, windy weather, that ball will be underinflated 100% of the time. There is no question that this has happened countless times in late season, cold weather games throughout the history of the National Football League. Asterisks all around for everybody, especially the Packers!
A MATTER OF DEGREE
Aside from the certainty of cold weather pressure drop, the real question we are left with is, "How much does it drop?" This will be answered not by rifling through the team's email, text messages and surveillance video, but rather by an experiment. Hence Coach Belichick's usual common sense in taking the opportunity to do just this before the team left Foxborough. Until someone else performs and documents the definitive experiment (several amateur scientists have posted attempts on YouTube), we should all take him at his word that ball pressure would have dropped enough, without any tampering, to account for what was observed by the referees during the recent AFC championship game.
It should be pointed out that an NFL football team could have avoided football deflation below the league minimum 12.5 psi in very cold weather by checking the ball pressure on the sideline during the game and pumping more air into them (increasing the “n” in the Ideal Gas Law). However, this would violate NFL rules by tampering with the balls. Teams have been placed by the NFL in an untenable situation where they’re “damned if you do and damned if you don’t”… and double-dog-damned if they happen to be the New England Patriots.
THE BLIND LEADING THE BLIND
During this fascinating, frustrating, all-consuming week of DeflateGate, some might wonder how could so many intelligent, highly paid NFL executives and officials have established such a flawed rule, a rule that appear ignorant of the fact that cold weather drops ball Pressure.
The DeflateGate "scandal" rages on because so many remain mystified by the inexplicable deflation of footballs in a cold, wet game. The science needed to dispel this mystery is not hard to grasp. In fact, the ideal gas law was formulated back in 1834, and is taught in high school physics class. Tragically, many journalists and commentators lack this knowledge and have plunged ahead recklessly with false accusations and little curiosity about the basic facts of the matter. They think that for the pressure to drop significantly, someone must have let air out of the Patriots balls. They just know it. Emboldened by ignorance and sinister suspicion, they have proclaimed the Patriots must have cheated by intentionally let air out of the balls by tampering with them. We wonder why so many media pundits have been so blind to their ignorance.
Answers to these questions come from the other important scientific field at play in DeflateGate: Cognitive and Social Psychology. Discussion of this is complex and goes way beyond the issue of football pressure, but is extremely relevant to the media and society at large. If you are interested, please look up "Cognitive Bias" and "The Dunning-Kruger effect: Why The Incompetent Don’t Know They’re Incompetent".
The science of cognitive bias is necessary to help us to understand how overconfident NFL officials established unworkable inflation rules. It also helps us to better understand why so many pundits have failed to appreciate the reasons for football deflation in a cold wet game yet have gone on to lob accusations of ball tampering with great confidence and righteous indignation (and a few tears).
While the science of human cognition and its limitations is probably powerless to eliminate the mass hysteria of DeflateGate, Obama birthers or Climate change luddites, high school physics can reliably keep NFL footballs properly inflated during games in any kind of weather. It could, in some small way, embody the way an enlightened society can solve problems in a rational, effective manner. Like most true solutions, the fix for NFL balls is simple, cost effective and elegant. Here it is:
1) Keep the current process of the teams giving their game balls to the officials 2-3 hours before kick-off. The officials have time to inspect the balls and allow time to correct any concerns.
2) At least 90 minutes before kick-off, the officials place the balls in breathable tamper proof bags or other containers, seal the containers with tamper-proof fasteners, and take them down to the field. This will allow the air inside the footballs to equilibrate to the climactic conditions (i.e. temperature) on the field.
3) The bags should be placed in plain sight of both teams, fans and officials in the center of the field. In any case, they must not be left near sideline heaters or fans.
4) The outside of the containers should be reflective White in color. (If the containers were black or other dark color and left in the sun, they will heat up the balls and prevent equilibration.
5) Whether to keep the balls dry from any rain will have to be determined.
6) The officials will break open the tamper-proof seals 10-20 minutes before kickoff, remove the balls, and adjust air pressure to NFL specifications.
7) Officials should be allowed to check and readjust ball pressures at half-time or other times during the game.
DeflateGate is the unfortunate outcome of irrational rules for pregame football inflation that have been adopted by NFL executives, lawyers and business owners who clearly lacked common sense and a knowledge of basic high-school physics. Robert Kraft’s indignation is certainly justified, but should be tempered by the realization that he joined so many others in implementing these rules. While apparently competent to manage business and legal matters, one wonders about the competency of NFL officials to handle all the other important matters facing the unprecedented sport of American football (like the epidemic of concussions and head injuries, for which there is also a simple scientific solution).
DeflateGate is not about who said what to who, about whether a coach or player is popular or likeable, about whether anyone should have felt a drop in football pressure by squeezing the ball, about how long it takes a ball-boy to relieve himself before heading to the sideline, or about whether deflation makes it easier or harder to hold, throw or catch a football. At least, this is not what it should be about. No, this controversy is simply about the pressure-drop in footballs during a cold, wet game. To determine whether or not pressure would have naturally dropped without tampering, the NFL needs a few scientists, not a team of lawyers on a witch hunt in need of a conspiracy. Most importantly, there is a simple, science-based process that NFL referees can easily follow to prevent similar problems in the future. It involves leaving the balls in sealed white bags at midfield for 90 minutes then adjusting ball pressure 15 minutes before kick-off.
Please consider these comments and feel free to publish, print, reproduce and pass on any portion of them.
Is the Steelers D a huge problem right now? Yes. Is it because of a lack of speed. No, unequivocally. Being out of potion is what is killing this team right now. Multiple players covering the same zone or being in the same running lane, these are the problems, not speed. Unfortunately this is to be expected from a defense that boasts so many young players and other new faces. Lets take a look at this defense from a speed perspective for a moment: D-Line - Cam Heyward is a beast, no speed issues here. Steve McLendon and Cam Thomas aren't extremely fast, but both are seen as being quick for their size and quickness is what matters in the trenches. Tuit is very fast. Keisel may be a little slow, but is he a liability? not with the other speed around him, especially as a rotational player. Linebackers - Speed is in no way an issue with this unit. The only player you can even question on that front is Jarvis Jones, but even though he isn't a sprinter his speed isn't a liability. Timmons, Shazier, and Worilds? They all have plus speed compared to the averages at their positions in the NFL. The depth players are also not slow. Secondary - Ike Tayor definitely isn't as fast as he used to be, but he used to be very fast. He's still above average for a starting corner, he just isn't that good. The same can be said for Troy, except Troy's skill haven't degraded as much, still an above average SS. Whatever else can be said about the skill sets of Cortez Allen and Mike Mitchell, they aren't slow, or old, players. Speed is an asset to their games. And, honestly, I believe speed is an overall asset to this defense. They just are constantly confused and out of position, especially against the no-huddle. Call this defense a liability all you want, because right now it is. But, don't call them slow, because its just not correct. Speed, especially among the young and new players, is one thing that gives me hope that this D can be an above average unit by year's end.
Please respond Ms. Hangst, I'd like to hear what you have to say about my opinion.
Once again its Andrea Hangst lack of football knowldge and her ridiculously stupid article. Seriously Andrea do you even watch football? Every article you write you make one good point against multiple dumb ones and almost always the worst heading ever. Please do the world a favor and never write again. So lets break down how idiotic your article is. Number one Keisel DOES NOT START!!! Are you telling me that because he is a over 30 ROTATIONAL player that he has a HUGE imapct on the game??? So by your OPINION every team needs to dup their over 30 rotational dlineman..
Number 2. Ike is actually playing well and he had ZERO effect on the steelers lack of production.
Number 3...Quote Andrea "I KNOW NOTHING ABOUT FOOTBALL"Hangst "The cause is simple—an older, slower defense that ages and loses speed every year." AND " This isn't a mess the Steelers will be able to get out of this season. They aren't going to magically get faster or younger." Seriously!! What year is it in your world?? Ike and Troy are the ONLY starters over 30. Reading your articles are so frustrating because you literally know absoultely nothing about football, what do you think about before attempting this shi* you write.
Bottom line Worlids is not elite right now and may not ever be We need the Harrison/Porter type to overwhelm the pass rush while a 2nd tier Woodley/Haggans comes along and he is not. Jones however is really developing but he is still young. Timmons is a position where we need him to be all world every play and he is not right now. Shazier is a rookie he makes a play then gives up one..what do you expect. The Dline is NOT dominant and that a HUGE factor in our scheme. Mclendon does not have Hampton leverage or strength. Tuitt has a ton of promise..see Shazier. Heyward is very good still only 25 ANDREA!!. Thomas is a natural nose but is not elite.In the secondary Troy is on the Downside we ALL know that but he is needed right now for at least this year. Allen is good , IKE is in his last year and Mitchell is not Ryan Clark from 2009 but again he is our FS and he is a good player who just needs to learn and control himself. We have addressed the DLine and LB in the draft and next year its obvious we will address the secondary and either commit to Worilds or sign/draft in 1st or 2nd rd a passrusher. The oline is solid Bell is fantastic and our Wr's are very good. Heath needs to be replaced and the offense just needs to have longer slower drives to give the defense a rest because remember 41 yards came on one run ALL STAR! . We all knew this was not a 11-5 season 9-7 is acceptable then Troy/Ike/Worilds need to be addressed. Keislel is in his swan song and THATS IT...
Andrea do the world a favor and stop writing, we always lose to Ravens at least once..9-7 people deal with it we are not elite we are young and we had to rebuild its a part of the evolution of football
My Father always said. " You never know who are your true friends until your down and out and the whole world is down on you. Then you will see who's standing beside you when the chips are down". The Ray Rice incident is a horrible story. Everyone knows it's a moral crime and a legal crime to hit a woman. The story has been told from the very beginning when Ray and his Now Wife Janay Palmer got into a argument that ended wife Ray punching his (now wfie) Janay. She said many times that she was the instigator and we all know that Alcohol played a huge part in the out come. Ray has said how embarrassed and sorry he was. He was fined and punished by Roger G. He dated her in high school and they must have truly loved each other because she forgave him and married him! He took his punishment and was willing to pay the price. Only now when the media wants to sell paper and get ratings up is this being dragged up and out! What are we as a country if we don't allow someone to make a wrong,....a right! What about forgiveness? What about redemption? He lost his career and lost everything for a mistake. He didn't come home and beat his wife and send her to the hospital. He didn't get a rape charge. He messed up! He was 100% wrong. He admitted it. He didn't kill dogs.So now after all has been said and done. The NFL pressures the Ravens to let him go. It's a sad horrible tragedy but I refuse to jump on the band wagon and continue to slam him. It s a personal issue between him and his wife. Take a year off Ray and fight to improve your status in the NFL. Judge Not lest we be judged by the same judgement of which you judge. Prayers and Hope to you and your family Ray. The future will be up to you.
I have never read a more poorly constructed and biased article as the one you wrote on the Ray Rice issue, you are an insult to fair and balanced journalism.
Don't write about the AFC north if you don't follow all of the teams moves carefully. Im a ravens fan and not only do i think another 8-8 season is ridiculous that you have projected, but even with Pitt, Cinci, and Cleveland your projections and screwed up. You described the browns as stocked up with new weapons on a great D and Baltimore will lose 13-7. No way in hell thats close to the amount of points scored. Your losing credibility quickly, especially by saying the Panthers sweep the Ravens. IF you have truly done ANY homework on Carolina, you would notice things like they need a new Tackle, their best wide outs are JASON AVANT and TIQUAN UNDERWOOD, and they lost key figures in the secondary with Mike Mitchell and Captain Munnerlyn. I mean Jesus Christ its not that hard.
After reading through your win-loss analysis of all four of the AFC North teams for 2014, I now know why Bleacher Report has ZERO credibility. You can't even keep your own story straight across 4 articles! Week 1 you have both Cincy and Baltimore losing..... TO EACH OTHER! Same with week 14, for Cincy and Pitt. Then in Week 17, both Cincy and Pitt WIN, again AGAINST EACH OTHER! Absolutely pathetic.
I've got to say, I know you're a Steelers fan, and I'm a Ravens fan, but you're starting to become one of the few writers I truly look forward to reading articles from. You're doing a good job.
The Bleacher Report should fire you or they better make sure you are not writing NFL articles. Before the start of tonight's game, the #1 defense has beaten the #1 offense (in the Super Bowl) 3 out of 4 times. Now, the #1 defense has beaten the #1 offense 4 out of 5 times in the Super Bowl. The great head coach Vince Lombardi has said, "Defense wins championships!"
Teams who have record-setting offenses (like the Broncos) usually lose the Super Bowl. Remember the Patriots in 2009? Do you see the similarities between this year's Broncos and the 2009 Patriots? Now, I realize that was a much closer Super Bowl, but the Giants had a good enough defense to beat that prolific offense. How can you be oblivious to that trend? Off with your NFL journalistic head!!!!