Patriots Preseason Thoughts Heading Into Game Three

Some thoughts on the local footballers as we prep for the third game of the 2015 preseason – often referred to as the “full scrimmage” of the four-game summer slate. So far, the Patriots have lost to Green Bay and beaten New Orleans, all of which means next to nothing. In terms of individual performances and positions, though, their upcoming scrimmage at Carolina could provide some answers.

Speaking of which…

No Wright Answer: When New England waived tight end Tim Wright in June, a few local pundits scratched their heads. (We agreed with ESPN.com’s Mike Reiss calling it “a mildly surprising move.”) Wright had solid, if unspectacular, production for the Patriots last year with 26 receptions, making his mark in the red zone with six touchdowns. It seems that the higher-ups at Foxboro figured they could do better. Of course, when you’re starting out with over 13 feet and a  quarter ton of tight end between Scott Chandler and Rob Gronkowski, maybe there’s some leeway for the “move” TE.

We certainly liked the potential of rookie A. J. Derby (you can read our draft review here), but with him on injured reserve, the outlook becomes less shiny. The team traded for Asante Cleveland, who got tossed around vs. the Saints like a stuffed animal at a play date. The Pats used him mostly as a blocker, but after watching that game, I wondered if Cleveland could block a one-man play about FDR.

Could they consider Jimmay Mundine? Maybe. He’s smaller (actually listed as a fullback on NFLDraftscout.com) and quicker than Cleveland. He also had experience in Kansas under former Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis. Plus, it’s always fun to say Jimmmaaaaaaayy. Or, they could eschew the “move” TE role and look for a bigger receiver instead. Still curious as to why they let Wright go so early.

Dealing With A Sense Of Shane-lessness: Last year, Shane Vereen caught 52 passes for 447 yards and three touchdowns. While no one running back might replace those numbers, the Pats did well to draft James White, who has looked the part in two preseason tilts with five reception for 72 yards. Dion Lewis got into the act last Saturday, catching five balls for 36 yards and one rushing TD. Veteran Travaris Cadet has gotten back on the field and may have a chance to show what the team’s been missing for the past few weeks. Though seemingly not as efficient a blocker as the other two, Cadet has gotten positive reviews for his receiving skills.

In any case, it seems that letting Vereen go to the Giants (where he will absolutely thrive, by the way) won’t hurt the Patriots all that much. At least until he lights them up in the Super Bowl. God damnit.

Boyce Will Be Boyce: Oh, poor Josh Boyce. So athletic. Such a standout practice player. Just can’t seem to get it together on the field. With myriad injuries to New England’s receiver crew, Boyce had a chance to take over this summer and rule the preseason. Instead, the past two games have showcased names like Chris Harper (12 receptions, 117 yards) and Jonathan Krause (nine for 75). Brandon Gibson looked sharp (12 for 97), but his season-ending knee injury – plus the fact that Brian Tyms got put on IR – would seem to open up Boyce to even greater opportunities as a fourth or fifth receiver.

Except for one thing…

Blame It On The Wayne: Now, the Pats have brought in Reggie Wayne, for more than just swapping age-appropriate stories with Tom Brady, we assume. Friday night could provide a window into New England’s intentions for Wayne, be they as a short-yardage pass-catcher, third-down conversion specialist, red zone target, or all of the above. Fun to find out how much Wayne has left in the ol’ Batmobile.

Yeah. Boyce. Maybe they’re saving him for something, but if I were his friend, I’d keep him away from any Magic 8-Balls: “Outlook Not So Good.”

Interior Motives: The preseason starting offensive line, which – if there is a God and He is just – will NOT make up the starting front in September, has provided some ups and downs for the offense. Undrafted rookie David Andrews has spent many snaps at center in Bryan Stork’s absence, showing solid potential if not current readiness. The rookie guard set of Shaq Mason and Tré Jackson has provided some spotty support with more room for improvement than an abandoned warehouse. Veteran Ryan Wendell reportedly got back on the practice field Tuesday, which should provide some much-needed stability.

In any case, interesting to see what Bill Belichick goes with for his starting line on Friday night.

Uncon-Vinced: Oh, Vince Wilfork. We miss you every time you show up on “Hard Knocks.” Talking your talk, dispensing advice, always seeming to have a good time. After watching Vince, by comparison, J. J. Watt seems like a total stiff. While Wilfork emits sincerity and couldn’t care less about having the cameras around (filing rough patches on his feet, squishing his shoes so that sweat bubbles up out of the tongues), Watt seems super conscious of people seeing and hearing him. (Drew Magary touched on this in his “Why Your Team Sucks,” 2015 Houston edition.)

Anyway, New England went with youth, so watch the kiddoes on their D-line. Dominique Easley and Malcom Brown both come up several cookouts shy of Wilfork’s weight (at 285, Easley’s missing about half a cow), but each has shown some strengths so far this preseason. After suffering a knee injury last year, Easley appears to have gotten back some of his trademark quickness, while Brown has demonstrated occasional field savvy that has helped him break up plays. See if they can show improvement on Friday.

I Was Ryan When I Met You, Now I’m Tryin’ To Forget You: You know, Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner signed elsewhere this off-season.

Hey, who’s dead horse is this? And why are we hitting it with axe handles?

We won’t spend too much time on this (maybe we’re already past “too much”), but beyond Malcolm “Go” Butler, the tryouts for starting defensive backs have seemed a bit hit or miss. Logan Ryan has been talked up as a potential starter opposite Butler, and his output has proved about as consistent as a drunk bartender’s Long Island Iced Teas. On one play he’ll reach in and knock away a third-down pass. On the next series, he’ll get burned for two consecutive first downs.

As the Patriots go with something close to game conditions for their third preseason game, let’s see if Ryan can mix it up with receivers and make things flow smoothly. Because, you know, their defensive backfield personnel is different this year. *sigh*

A Means To An Ends: Once again, rookies. Trey Flowers might be back from injury after a solid first game vs. Green Bay. Geneo Grissom has been moved around more than that Patrick Nagel print you’ve had since college. Xzavier Dickson has ended up at the right places when he’s gotten to play. Considering New England already has a starting rotation of Rob Ninkovich, Chandler Jones, and Jabaal Sheard to platoon (or not?), these rookies will have a tough road to playing time. It starts now, and the more they can do, the more flexibility this defense will have.

And Coach Belichick likes his defense more flexible than the numbers from an Exponent report.

Wait, how did we end up here?

A Final Note On Deflated Footballs (Not Likely): One question amidst all the hullaballoo. How does this make football better? In our July column on getting rid of the PSI rule (called “That Song By Queen And David Bowie”), we pointed out the merits of leaving a football’s air pressure up to the ref’s discretion before and during a game. As this insanity continues, we still wonder how it helps to take measures (pun intended) to ensure proper air pressure. No one has ever cared about this. No one should ever care about this.

In 2006, Brady and Peyton Manning lobbied for QBs to be able to bring their own doctored footballs to away games. In the following years, both Brady and Manning have broken NFL records for passing touchdowns. Remind me how this is a bad thing?

Oh, it’s not? Right.

Ditch the rule, dump the silliness. Now let’s play football.

Chris Warner can be emailed at [email protected] or tweeted at @cwarn89

The Flat Balls Society

By Dan Snapp

Peter King in successive weeks:

July 13th:

“My best guess: Officials will chart the weights of all footballs before the game, then spot-check some at halftime and after the game.”

July 20th:

“Basically, depending on which physics expert you believe, it’s either a stretch to think the Patriots’ footballs deflated as much as they did by halftime of the game against Indy Jan. 18, or a perfectly normal occurrence.”

July 27th:

“When footballs are pressure-gauged before games, they will still have to measure between 12.5 pounds per square inch and 13.5 psi. If they do not, the officials will be instructed to put the air in the football at 13.0 psi. So if one team is trying to get an edge by having the pressure right on the border near 12.5 or right on the border near 13.5, and it’s either under or over by a tenth of a pound, it will backfire. In the past, maybe a crew would measure and say, “Close enough.” Now, that crew will have to put the psi at the halfway point between high and low, exactly 13.0. In other words, it’s a decision soft-ball lovers or hard-ball lovers really won’t like.”

This is, if not the pre-eminent NFL writer today, then the most ubiquitous. He’s the bad penny showing up everywhere, regurgitating bad science. He still thinks they’ll be charting the weight of the balls? He still thinks the physics is a coin toss? He still thinks a couple tenths of a pound per square inch is motive enough for teams to try to sneak something past the officials?

I get it, not everybody can accept science on faith alone. They need proof. So perhaps if King wakes up to find the Logo Gauge AND the Non-Logo Gauge under his tree this year, maybe then he can truly BELIEVE. Yes, Peter, there IS an Ideal Gas Law!

King has been dutifully floating Roger Goodell’s help-me-find-a-way-out-of-this-shit trial balloons the past few weeks, gauging* public response to a host of Tom Brady fates. How does two games sound? One game? No? How about forestalling Brady’s punishment for a year while we study the science just a little bit longer? Then can Roger keep his job?

* And recording? Probably. The league’s pretty diligent when it comes to Rog’s Q-rating.

Following up on one of King’s “hunches”, the league announced plans to update football inspection. They won’t “chart the weights” of the balls, sadly, but pregame they will be numbering the balls, they’ll be gauging and recording the PSI of each respective ball, they’ll “spot check” during “designated games” (i.e. “Patriots games”), and there will be a dedicated chain of custody, with the Kicking Ball Coordinator escorting the balls to the field under the watchful eyes of both an official AND league security. Go ahead and try to crack THAT nut, Dorito Dink!

This is all well and good, and does at least provide a level of standardization that might have aided the Patriots back in January when this whole ridiculous episode commenced. And the spot check measurements – assuming the league is gracious enough to share them this time – could also serve to vindicate the Patriots.

But look at some of the other details of their announcement:

Each team will be required to supply 24 footballs to the officials’ locker room – 12 primary and 12 backup – 2 hours and 15 minutes prior to the game.

At designated games, selected at random, the game balls used in the first half, will be collected by the kicking ball coordinator (KBC) at halftime and the league’s security representative will escort the KBC to the locker room.

Also, at the end of any randomly selected game, the KBC will return the footballs to the officials’ locker room, where all game balls from each team will be inspected and the results will be recorded.

Do you see the problem? Every single time they measure the balls, it’s still going to be in the climate-controlled atmosphere of the officials’ locker room. And there’s no mention in the article of recording the temperatures of the locker rooms and out on the field, the climate conditions, or the respective times each football gets measured.

They still don’t understand the science!

What’s the point of all this trouble, effort, time and procedure if they’re still going to be introducing balls that won’t be at regulation within minutes at any game where on-field temperatures are 10 degrees colder or hotter than in the officials’ locker room?**

** Assuming an officials’ locker room temp of 71 degrees, and a ball set at 13.0 PSI with no other variables out of spec.

It sure will be comforting to know,  say during December home games in New England, Buffalo, Green Bay and Minnesota, we can be assured those footballs will be at regulation up until kickoff. But hey, at least now we’ll be dead certain nobody will be tampering with already under-inflated footballs. Integrity! Shield! Nobody touch a slice ‘til Rog does!

Do they not yet realize how many games in league history have been played with balls that weren’t within their silly arbitrary PSI parameters? Not just iconic games like the Ice Bowl or the Freezer Bowl, or even the Patriots/Ravens divisional game this past season (when game-time temp was 22 degrees), but multitudes of games throughout the decades.

And the same goes for those early September games played in the sweltering heat in say Miami. If the balls were checked inside, they most likely were over regulation within minutes on the field. That’s just science.

The truth is the NFL cares not one iota about getting it right, and certainly doesn’t care about vindicating the Patriots. They do care, however, about trying to look good. And adding more arbitrary regulations to an already arbitrary standard makes it look – at least to the general populace – like they’re doing something productive. Before you look a little deeper, of course.

What should they do? Logically, they could do the preliminary ball-checks on the field. At least then there’s some consistency between the environment where the ball is measured and the environment in which they play. But that still doesn’t assure anything because, well, weather isn’t a constant.

What they really should do is go back to not giving a damn about ball pressure, like they did the 70 some-odd years since they first set the standard. They should just return to that blissful ignorance that served them so well for so long, before Ryan Grigson and Mike Kensil got their panties in a bunch.

The NFL has to worry about two audiences alone: the 32 owners whom it enriches; and the nation of flat-earthers eager to sop up any story that incriminates the team they hate. Neither group cares a whit about science.

This is why you never hear tales of Roger Goodell going on a cruise: Sure, sure, they all say the Earth is round, but why take the chance? But we could always sail Ted around the world a dozen times, just to be sure.

That Song By Queen And David Bowie

Come on. You know what song I’m talking about.

As Roger Goodell and his NFL ilk try to figure out the ruling on Tom Brady’s appeal with the smallest amount of P.R. damage, it’s time to bring up the one aspect of this foolishness that hasn’t been called into question:

The NFL has to ditch the football inflation rule.

Listen, they can do whatever they want with the Brady appeal. They can present it to the masses like a commandment to be followed or make it into a paper boat and perform a mini Viking funeral. The rule, as it were, exists. If the NFL is willing to stick with the questionable figures of the Wells report and ignore the lessons of any ninth grade intro to physical science class, so be it. “More likely than not,” “generally aware,” etc.

But, moving forward, it’s time to get rid of – or at least greatly expand – the ball inflation parameters. A brief look at the task of enforcing this rule – which, as far as we can tell, had never been strictly enforced – tells us the reasons why.

Every football must have air pressure between 12.5 and 13.5 pounds per square inch (psi). The Wells report revealed the nonchalant nature in which these measurements take place, with officials using differently calibrated gauges while neglecting to write down measurements or numerate the footballs themselves.

All footballs must be numbered. All measurements must be recorded. All gauges must be calibrated. Sounds like we might need another official to take care of these matters.

The NFL must hire a Head of Football Pressure. He then must hire two PSI officials for every game, one for each team’s footballs (this will give each official necessary time to take halftime measurements).

Now, about that pesky science: we know that a football’s pressure in Miami at the season opener will have a different halftime reading than a football in Green Bay during Week 17. We need a physics-trained football official (PTF), one who can take game time outdoor temperature, humidity and/or dampness of each ball, time of possession (to figure time of exposure for each football), halftime indoor temperature, and – while the aforementioned PSI official takes measurements – come up with a “real” pressure loss or gain for each individual ball.

Keep in mind, the Wells Report took almost four months. But, if we can’t get a couple of people to figure this all out in 20 minutes, let’s just expand halftime another five or ten minutes and bring in another handful of officials to get it done. How about a PSI and PTF official for each football? Nothing like a few dozen extra guys milling about in a designated Ball Science room.

I mean, if they’re taking this seriously, can they stop at halftime? Don’t they have to repeat the process at the end of each game, for integrity and all that?

Yeah. Time to get rid of that rule.

Before this past January, very few people knew or concerned themselves with the specifics of football psi. Referees judged a football’s game worthiness by giving it a squeeze. Sometimes they’d pump it up themselves, sometimes with shaky results. Now, what if equipment managers could get the psi that their QBs wanted? What if they let the refs grip them before the game – right there on the sideline – and be done with it?

Ball seems too flat or overinflated? The officials say so and ask for a few pumps of air put in or taken out of the ball. During the game, if the ref finds a ball lacking, he tosses it back in and asks for another. It’s hard to see many difficulties with leaving the pressure up to the refs’ discretion. We already do that with the most important aspect of the game: spotting the ball.

Think about it: how closely can a human being determine the position of a football several feet away while it’s gripped by a runner getting knocked around by large men? If the official is off by one inch per play – which seems remarkably efficient – then by fourth and inches, maybe every one of those inches has already been accounted for. Maybe, in Perfectworld, it’s already first down.

That’s the game, though. We live with those potential inaccuracies because putting GPS locator devices in each ball and having a digital readout for each play would prove too costly and time-consuming. Kind of like hiring hundreds of new officials and building a science lab in every NFL stadium.

Some teams might try to take advantage of this non-rule by inflating footballs to under 11 pounds, making them easy to grab in harsh weather conditions. Again, officials’ discretion: if they feel a football is too soft, get another one. If they feel that the team in question continues to provide soft footballs, give a warning, then hit them with a delay-of-game penalty.

The NFL in general (and Goodell in particular) turned a silly rule infraction (that science has told us may not have occurred) into talk show fodder where the outrage seemed inversely proportional to actual football knowledge. That an improbable breaking of an oft-ignored rule became “-gate”-worthy is on them.

Getting rid of that rule would take off the pressure of trying to enforce it. But I don’t expect they will. If this fiasco has taught us anything, it’s that the NFL doesn’t really understand pressure.

Chris Warner tweets @cwarn89