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Riverboat Ron doesn’t extend to two-point conversions

SAN JOSE, CA - FEBRUARY 01:  Head coach Ron Rivera of the Carolina Panthers addresses the media at Super Bowl Opening Night Fueled by Gatorade at SAP Center on February 1, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) Getty Images

Super Bowl Opening Night, the successor to Super Bowl Media Day, has become such a circus that it often feels like no one actually talks about the game at all.

But every once in a while, one of those non-traditional “media” people asks a relevant question. According to the Charlotte Observer, it was a first grader who challenged Panthers coach Ron Rivera on his strategy on two-point conversions and got Rivera to admit that he hasn’t really thought through the math of it all. (The question actually came from PFT Commenter, pretending to read a question from a first grader.)

Rivera became known as “Riverboat Ron” because he defied the conventional wisdom and started going for it on fourth down more often than other coaches, and that has been a part of the Panthers’ success. But Rivera sticks with the conventional wisdom that says coaches should only go for two when they have to, and kick extra points as the default: The Panthers went 56-for-59 on extra point kicks in the regular season, and they never went for two.

That’s where the first grader came in on Monday night, asking Rivera why he doesn’t go for two every time. Rivera answered that the Panthers made 95 percent of their extra points.

“You almost feel like at 95 percent it’s a sure thing and you should take the one, and that’s the way we approach it,” Rivera said.

But there was a follow-up question, and that’s where Rivera got stumped: Surely a good short-yardage team like the Panthers could make 50 percent of their two-point conversions. And if so, going for two would be the smarter strategy because 50 percent of two is more than 95 percent of one.

“Probably. I’m not a mathematician. As a football coach I’m limited in my math,” Rivera answered.

Eventually, some coach will defy the conventional wisdom and make going for two the default for his team. But that coach apparently won’t be Ron Rivera.

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24 Responses to “Riverboat Ron doesn’t extend to two-point conversions”
  1. ajames35 says: Feb 2, 2016 7:32 AM

    “Riverboat Ron” is an ironic nickname because Rivera really just started making more high-probability decisions on 4th downs. It only *looks* like he’s taking risks when compared to the over-conservative tendencies of most NFL coaches.

  2. wiscobear says: Feb 2, 2016 7:53 AM

    Even if you score on 50% of 2-pt attempts, the variance is higher, if you want to get all mathy about this. You don’t want high variance for something when you only have a few attempts. Over the course of a season it might work out for more total points, but in a single game if you only score 3 TDs, the odds are greater that you would miss two 2-pt attempts than the odds are that you would miss one extra point kick. You also need to consider odds of the other team being able to match with 2 field goals as opposed to a touchdown. Anyway my point is that the math affecting result of a single game is more complicated than your simplified comparison of 50% success on 2-pt attempts vs 95% of 1-pt kicks over the course of a season.

  3. thespread00 says: Feb 2, 2016 8:03 AM

    Well coach Tomlin did it this year. The Steelers set a record for attempted and converted 2pt conversations

  4. sammievee says: Feb 2, 2016 8:24 AM

    When the downside of coming away with zero heavily exceeds the upside of coming away with two the answer is that adults need to be making those decisions–not that the NFL head coaching ranks are loaded up with adults.

  5. levanderwilliams says: Feb 2, 2016 8:33 AM

    Wow Ron! Outsmarted by a first grader? Really?!

  6. denverdave3 says: Feb 2, 2016 8:43 AM

    It’s not that the kid was smart – heck we’ve all thought of that.

    Coaches are afraid they’ll lose their jobs if they do unorthodox things and lose, but as soon as somebody starts proving the kid correct, all the copycat coaches will do the same thing.

  7. smokehouse56 says: Feb 2, 2016 9:22 AM

    Shoot, I think going for two every time is mathematically superior than kicking for one. At some point someone will see this and the two point conversion will be the way to go.

  8. realdealsteel says: Feb 2, 2016 9:32 AM

    Well coach Tomlin did it this year. The Steelers set a record for attempted and converted 2pt conversations
    ——————————————————————

    And where is Tomlin now? And what has Tomlin done with his own players and not Bill Cowher’s players?

    Exactly.

  9. intrafinesse says: Feb 2, 2016 9:35 AM

    Why not? Wouldn’t the game situation dictate this?
    If you are the favored team you will in general prefer the low variance strategy.
    But the weaker team may benefit from selecting the high variance strategy because it gives them a better chance of winning. They may lose by more, but a loss is a loss, and differential is unimportant.

    Also, if down by 5, then a PAT isn’t all that useful since you still need a TD, but a 2 point conversion puts you within a field goal.

    >>wiscobear says:
    Feb 2, 2016 7:53 AM
    Even if you score on 50% of 2-pt attempts, the variance is higher, if you want to get all mathy about this. You don’t want high variance for something when you only have a few attempts.

  10. bubbahotepp says: Feb 2, 2016 9:38 AM

    Then why did no one ask him why he went for 2 in the NFC championship game when he was up by 25 points and there were 5 minutes left in the game?

  11. fwippel says: Feb 2, 2016 9:47 AM

    Don’t talk two-point conversions to Panther fans who were around for their first Super Bowl appearance. They lost that game because John Fox went for two on consecutive TDs in the 4th quarter, and the Patriots made their only attempt.

    If Fox had kicked both those extra points, at worst, Super Bowl XXXVIII goes into overtime when Vinatieri makes that FG with two seconds left. That decision, and the failure to convert both attempts, cost the Panthers that game.

  12. atlantacynic says: Feb 2, 2016 9:50 AM

    @realdealsteel says

    “And where is Tomlin now? And what has Tomlin done with his own players and not Bill Cowher’s players?

    Exactly.”

    Coming off 11-5 and 10-6 seasons with the loss of his franchise QB, All Pro center, All Pro RB and All Pro WR at various points this past season

    Also with the closest thing outside of New England to a lifetime HC job, which may explain why he has been more aggressive on going for 2

    Add to that making $5.75 million per year (I know you make more but just sayin’)

    So where is Tomlin now? Laughing all the way to the bank

  13. randomjoeblow says: Feb 2, 2016 9:55 AM

    This only works if the math is likely to be ~50% all of the time, which is a number that’s just kind of pulled out of the air as if it’s a sure thing. If a team is constantly loading up for two-point conversions most of the time, other teams are going to spend a lot more time working on two-point conversion defense against them, knowing it’s pretty likely to come, which would likely drive the percentage down.

    Plus, as someone said above, missing that extra point half the time is likely going to swing games by a couple of points pretty often — it’s not going to be a flat line of make/miss/make/miss. And points are hard to come by in the NFL.

  14. jeremy1117 says: Feb 2, 2016 10:01 AM

    I figure teams don’t switch to going for two regularly because that would reveal a lot of your short-yardage goal-to-go plays. More of your playbook gets shown to the league.

    Plus, you expose your best offensive players to yet another chance of getting injured each time. Perhaps the potential benefits are not significant enough to outweigh all of the drawbacks.

  15. honeybadger14 says: Feb 2, 2016 10:02 AM

    Rivera just needed to point out the Panthers are 17-1 and playing in the Superbowl by kicking XP’s.

  16. jon11x says: Feb 2, 2016 10:44 AM

    I know a kid who only knows football by playing Madden. When he finally was watching a real NFL game on TV — he was completely flabbergasted that the teams would actually NOT go for it on all 4th downs and would even punt! — no matter the yardage needed for a first down.

    Going for 2 is probably more Madden influence on the youth today.

  17. jeremy1117 says: Feb 2, 2016 10:48 AM

    Without a large enough sample size, it’s assuming a lot to say that you would make 50% of your 2 pt. conversions in the future. It could be less than that, or more. There’s simply not enough empirical evidence to base it on.

    So it’s inaccurate to argue with math that isn’t based on reality.

  18. Moudabo says: Feb 2, 2016 11:00 AM

    “Riverboat Ron” is the anti-Tomlin.

    I suspect coaches will be going for a lot more
    2-point conversions next year.
    The statistics back up that it’s the right move
    even if it runs counter to the play-it-safe mantra
    that most coaches follow.

  19. rootpain says: Feb 2, 2016 11:40 AM

    That’s why Rivera will never know the feeling of beating the Patriots for the SuperBowl. That requires true grit and the Patriots obviously decided the Panthers didn’t have it.
    That’s the thing about the responsibility for maintaining league parity as the Patriots have. They need to make the tough decisions. Like whether to relinquish the SuperBowl or allow some subpar teams to vie for it. Had Rivera demonstrated that he understood the analytics associated with the 2 point conversion, the Patriots may have allowed the Panthers to play them in the SuperBowl. However, the Panthers were not worthy. Hence they get the consolation prize and play the Broncos in the parity round.
    Meanwhile Brady and the boys are at home starting on two a days.
    It’s too bad. I predict the Patriots would have won by 14. Go Brady.

  20. granadafan says: Feb 2, 2016 11:42 AM

    Uh, you make it sound as if the first grader asked the follow up question and so-called “stumped” Rivera.

  21. bjwbrown2011 says: Feb 2, 2016 12:36 PM

    “Don’t talk two-point conversions to Panther fans who were around for their first Super Bowl appearance. They lost that game because John Fox went for two on consecutive TDs in the 4th quarter, and the Patriots made their only attempt.

    If Fox had kicked both those extra points, at worst, Super Bowl XXXVIII goes into overtime when Vinatieri makes that FG with two seconds left. That decision, and the failure to convert both attempts, cost the Panthers that game.”

    Of course what you failed to mention is that both of the two point conversions were in situations where it was obvious to go for two.

    In the 4th quarter the Panthers first scored with 12:48 left and were down by 5, they tried to make it a field goal game.

    On the Panthers next possession, they scored again with 7:06 left and it was obvious that they had to go for 2 to make it a field goal game.

    I don’t think anyone can realistically blame John Fox for the decisions he made, only the execution.

  22. noteamforlosangeles says: Feb 2, 2016 1:38 PM

    Well, his team was the first to GIVE UP two points because of a failed one-pointer, FWIW.

  23. mmack66 says: Feb 2, 2016 4:31 PM

    bubbahotepp says:
    Feb 2, 2016 9:38 AM

    Then why did no one ask him why he went for 2 in the NFC championship game when he was up by 25 points and there were 5 minutes left in the game?
    —————————

    He probably would have said so he could run up the score, you know, by one more point.

  24. jgedgar70 says: Feb 3, 2016 1:17 PM

    “Of course what you failed to mention is that both of the two point conversions were in situations where it was obvious to go for two.

    In the 4th quarter the Panthers first scored with 12:48 left and were down by 5, they tried to make it a field goal game.

    On the Panthers next possession, they scored again with 7:06 left and it was obvious that they had to go for 2 to make it a field goal game.

    I don’t think anyone can realistically blame John Fox for the decisions he made, only the execution.”
    _____
    INCORRECT! It was not “obvious.” So you think that the go for 2 was right at 12:48 because it would have made it a 3 point game? That means you think the opponent is not going to score any more points, and your team is not going to score any more TDs. That’s the kind of mindset you should have with 1:48 to go, not 12:48.

    Fox was using that stupid damn card that does not account for any game situation other than score. So YES, he DID lose us that Super Bowl, and only led us to 2 good seasons the rest of his tenure.

    Most overrated coach of all time. I’m much happier with Rivera.

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