One of the many questions surrounding “Deflategate”—the controversy that has engulfed the New England Patriots—concerns what advantage an NFL team would gain from using a deflated football. Numerous players have said a softer ball is easier to grip, and a ball that’s easier to grip is harder to drop
New England coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady both denied ever purposely using footballs that were inflated below the NFL minimum. But on the basis of the allegations, the Count looked at the fumble rate of the Patriots compared with the rest of the league.
New England has had an uncanny ability to hold on to the football for quite some time. According to data compiled by Warren Sharp of Sharp Football Analysis, the Patriots fumble far less than any other team that plays outdoors, where the elements can make the football harder to handle. Beginning in the 2010 season, Patriots players have fumbled (whether lost or recovered) once every 73 touches from scrimmage, which is 52% better than the league average. The next best team is the Ravens, who have fumbled once every 55 touches.
Additionally, according to Stats, LLC, the six players who have played extensively for the Patriots and other teams in this span all fumbled far less frequently wearing the New England uniform. Including recovered fumbles, Danny Amendola, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Danny Woodhead, Wes Welker, Brandon LaFell and LeGarrette Blount have lost the ball eight times in 1,482 touches for the Patriots since 2010, or once every 185.3 times. For their other teams, they fumbled 22 times in 1,701 touches (once every 77.3).
Of course, Belichick is strict disciplinarian when it comes to holding on the football, frequently benching running backs who dare to put the ball on the ground. But other NFL head coaches aren’t exactly cavalier about the practice.
And it’s not only ball carriers who can potentially benefit. Quarterbacks are frequent fumblers when sacked. But while the average passer fumbles once every 7.3 sacks, Brady’s rate is once every 9.1, an improvement of nearly 25%.
Source: The Wall Street Journal