During his tenure as Oregon’s head coach, Chip Kelly did something routinely that no NFL coach has done in nearly 15 years: He went for two-point conversions in the first quarter.
Now that Kelly is head coach of the Eagles, he may change the way NFL teams view the two-point conversion — if he continues to use the same strategy he used at Oregon, and if he’s successful.
In five of Oregon’s 13 games last season, the Ducks tried for a two-point conversion after scoring their first touchdown. Three of those five two-point tries were successful, and two were unsuccessful. When the Ducks didn’t go for two, they often sent out their field goal/PAT unit and had them line up in a trick-play formation, shifting into the standard kick formation only after seeing if the defense appeared ready to stop the play they planned to run.
Kelly’s approach to two-point conversions — trying them after taking a 6-0 lead, rather than only trying them late in the game when the “chart” says they should — is unheard of in the NFL. According to Aaron Schatz of FootballOutsiders.com, the last time a team tried for a two-point conversion in the first quarter (other than on bad snaps or fumbled holds when the team initially planned to kick the extra point) was in 1998. And even that play was done in an attempt to chase points by a team that had just scored a touchdown to narrow the deficit from 14-6 to 14-12 and wanted to tie the game with a two-point conversion.
In the 2012 season, teams only tried for two-point conversions in the first half four times. Three of those four teams did it after a touchdown narrowed the deficit from 14-6 to 14-12 in the second quarter, and the fourth was a trick play run by Bears holder Adam Podlesh.
Even in the third quarter, two-point tries are very rare: Only twice in 2012 did a team go for two in the third quarter. All 32 NFL teams treated two-point conversions as something you try only when you need to.
But that’s not the case with Kelly. Kelly’s view is that a two-point conversion at the start of the game is a great way to extend an early lead and make your opponent chase points later in the game. And at Oregon, it often worked. If Kelly doesn’t lose his nerve with the Eagles, he may become the first coach since the NFL introduced two-point conversions in 1994 to make going for two a routine part of the game plan, not a special play that’s broken out in an emergency.
The NFL is a copycat league, so if it works for Kelly and the Eagles, it won’t be long before other coaches begin to emulate him. It’s possible that we’ll start to see NFL teams go for two a lot more often. If so, Kelly will have made the NFL more fun.