How Would Eagles Chip Kelly Handle His Balls?


Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Since the AFC Championship game last weekend, all eyes have focused on the New England Patriots and allegations of playing with under-inflated footballs. “Deflategate,’ as it’s come to be known, has taken center stage on sports media outlets. With the Philadelphia Eagles looking from the outside this year, the Patriots’ situation raises an interesting question – would head coach Chip Kelly bend the rules up to the point of breaking if it meant a critical edge for his team?

The Patriots allegations began after an Indianapolis Colts’ defender intercepted quarterbacked Tom Brady’s pass and then returned to the sidelines to inform the coaching staff that the ball didn’t seem right. Tests on the football showed an internal air pressure around 10.5 pounds per square inch (PSI). The NFL Rulebook stipulates balls should be inflated to between 12.5 and 13.5 PSI. As this issue occurred during the first half of play, the Patriots’ footballs were properly inflated, and the second half played without issue. Post-game investigation revealed that 11 of the 12 game balls used by the Patriots were not inflated properly.

Critics quickly pointed to the Spygate scandal of 2008, where the New York Jets accused the Patriots of videotaping signals from the sidelines. Both the team and head coach Bill Belichick received fines and lost draft picks as a result. Others point out the science behind an inflated ball losing pressure as the temperature drops. Still others suggest the Patriots deliberately inflated the balls in a warm area, say a sauna, to maximize the air pressure drop. At this point, everything in conjecture, but the question still remains how the balls ended up that way.

Throughout his time at the college level, Kelly became known as an offensive innovator, willing to think outside of the box. At the NFL level, Kelly brought some of the radical new concepts into play. However, unlike college where blowouts of a superior team against an inferior team are more commonplace, the parity in the NFL even between the best and worst teams is much smaller. Every competitive advantage helps. Ideally, those advantages fall within the confines of the rules. Other times, coaches or players try to toe the line, or even deliberately step beyond it.

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Kelly doesn’t seem like the kind of coach that would blatantly break the rules. However, absent clearly defined parameters, something as simple as inflated the balls in a warm room to maximize a pressure drop in cold weather playing conditions may fit inside a competitive strategy. The unfortunate reality becomes that the rule book may eventually need to reflect this level of detail, for example that all game balls must be left in a 70 degree room for at least one hour and then inflated in that room prior to inspection. Hopefully, the NFL doesn’t come to that, but as margins for success continue to narrow, the inevitability of these situations is present.

The Philadelphia Eagles, their city, and their fans are starving for a championship. Putting the quarterback issues, defense issues, and all of the other personnel challenges aside, what will it take to make that final step towards winning a Super Bowl? Perhaps it does lie in a close and detailed analysis of the NFL Rulebook, looking for any opportunity to gain a “legal” advantage over an opponent.

Hopefully, the answer lies in creative playcalling and scheming to defeat an opponent within the confines of the generally acceptable principles of play. When the time comes for the Eagles to hoist the Lombardi, let’s all hope it comes without any overshadowing of bending or breaking the rules. Then we can truly celebrate the Eagles as Super Bowl Champions.