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Ask PFW: Explaining football sizes and specifications

Fans' questions answered in this week's PFW mailbag.


Hey guys, awesome game. I loved every second of it. I am a little frustrated to wake up the next day with a headline of the Patriots deflating footballs. How could this happen? Isn't the NFL and the officials responsible for the footballs? How could the team have a chance to deflate them?* *Monty Borrowman

Let's begin with what we know for certain. As is stated in the NFL rulebook, each team makes a dozen footballs available for testing by the head of the officiating crew (the referee) two hours and 15 minutes prior to kickoff. In addition, the home team provides an additional dozen footballs (the visiting team can bring 12 backup balls as well, but only for games in indoor stadiums). For kicking plays, eight new footballs, (and I'm quoting here) "sealed in a special box and shipped by the manufacturer to the Referee," are opened in the officials' locker room two hours and 15 minutes before kickoff. These footballs are specifically marked by the ref and used as kicking balls only.

Team photographer, David Silverman, offers his best from the Patriots-Colts AFC Championship game at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, January 18, 2015.

The rulebook also states that each ball by be inflated between 12.5 and 13.5 pounds, and have certain shape, length, and circumference limits. The referee "shall be the sole judge as to whether all balls offered for play comply with these specifications." Furthermore, a pump is to be supplied by the home team, and each football shall remain under the supervision of the ref until delivered to the ball attendant just before kickoff.

As they say on TV infomercials… "But wait, there's more!"

Again, I'll quote the rulebook. "In the event a home team ball does not conform to specifications… the Referee shall secure a proper ball from the visitors and, failing that, use the best available ball. Any such circumstances must be reported to the Commissioner."

So… given all that protocol, it's difficult to imagine that the Patriots equipment staff or anyone else associated with the team was able to tamper in any way with the balls used in the AFC Championship versus the Colts. If Indy had a problem with the footballs being provided by New England, they had their own sufficient stash from which they could have drawn.

In any event, the Commissioner has been informed, the NFL says it's investigating the issue, and sooner or later, we'll see what they find. Erik Scalavino


I think the problems in the Super Bowl won't be as much for the offense – with so many different receivers to cover, Richard Sherman can't be everywhere – as the defense failing to get to the quarterback. We have already seen [Russell] Wilson is not fazed by pressure and no matter how good our secondary is there is no way they can cover for 8 seconds while Wilson runs around the backfield. What sort of pressure can Matt Patricia bring in the Super Bowl?* *Alex Marr

New England doesn't have an elite, individual pass rusher, sadly. However, when the Patriots were able to pressure quarterbacks effectively during the regular season, they did so in creative ways: stunts and delayed blitzes, for example. Every so often, Chandler Jones or Rob Ninkovich would get in the backfield with nice 1-on-1 moves against opposing blockers, but for the most part, it was a team effort to get a sack. In both playoff games thus far, New England hasn't done a whole lot of blitzing or stunting, and I'd like to see them do this in the Super Bowl, to put some heat on Wilson. Erik Scalavino

Hello! Thank you for the great coverage. I am kinda feeling sorry for Bryan Stork. This kid has been contributing throughout the season but got injured while the OL had one of the greatest games of the season. Do you think he will end up on the bench in the greatest game of the life? It hurts if so. Go Pats! John Lee

Stork has not suited up since going down in the second quarter against Baltimore with a right knee injury. He was briefly spotted leaving the locker room after the AFC Championship Game in civilian clothing. The fact that New England has not made any transactions involving the rookie center to this point could be a positive sign that his injury is not severe enough to preclude him from appearing in the Super Bowl.

We will have a better idea, perhaps, when the team gets back on the practice field this week. If Stork is able to participate, even on a limited basis, that would be fantastic news for the club. While the Patriots were able to survive without him against Indianapolis, the offensive line is clearly more effective with him at center. They'll need him against Seattle's stouter defensive front on Super Bowl Sunday. Keep checking over the next two weeks for daily updates on Stork and his injury. Erik Scalavino

Great win on Sunday. Is it legal to place all your receivers on the left side of the formation? This would force Sherman to play out of his comfort zone. If legal, I think the Patriots should try it. Remi Morrissette

NFL rules dictate that each offensive play must feature seven players on the line of scrimmage. The five guys in the middle are ineligible receivers, meaning only the two players on opposite ends of the line are eligible. The remaining four eligible players must line up somewhere in the backfield. So, no, all your eligible receivers could not line up on one side or the other. You could put most of them there if you like, but at least one would have to be on the line of scrimmage on the opposite side of the overloaded formation. Erik Scalavino


I love the Patriots, but do Belichick and Brady realize how enormously embarrassing it is, to many fans, when they leave their starters in and completely unnecessarily try to run up the score? The 4th quarter of that [AFC Championship] game was NOT the time to risk pointless injury to our stars, but I guess it was the perfect opportunity to make the rest of the country hate the Patriots even more than they already do.* *Keith Perry

Why is Brady dropping back to pass with 6 minutes left and a 38 point lead? Brett Larson

Have to admit, I have my heart in my throat whenever I'm watching a game in which key players are kept on the field in blowouts. The risks of freak injuries occurring are just too high. The question is, at what point is it a blowout? As we saw in the NFL title tilt, Seattle looked completely out of it late in that game, but they turned it around quickly. Indy, obviously, had no chance of coming back from their deficit in the fourth quarter. Jimmy Garoppolo, Brady's backup, eventually came on in relief, but I would have liked to see him appear much earlier, too. Especially after I saw Brady take a hard hit late in that game and get piled on by the Colts defense. But that's just the way Belichick coaches. Nothing you can do about it but grit your teeth and hope for the best. Erik Scalavino


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