It’s time for a coach to have some guts on going for two

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Over the last week in the NFL, multiple coaches and quarterbacks have talked about the possibility of going for two after almost every touchdown. But no one has come right out and said his team is going to go for two most of the time.

In fact, no team in the history of the NFL — or in major college football — has ever gone for two most of the time. Last year, the Steelers were about as close as any team has come to making two-point conversions the norm, but even the Steelers kicked more than three times as often as they went for two, finishing the season with 34 extra point attempts and 11 two-point conversion attempts.

Mike Tomlin took a step in the right direction, but it’s time for NFL coaches to stop taking baby steps on two point conversions. It’s time for some coach to go for two as the default option after scoring a touchdown.

Mathematically, there’s no question that it would be the right call for some teams. Last year across the NFL, kickers went 1,146-for-1,217 (94.2 percent) on extra points, while offenses went 45-for-94 (47.9 percent) on two-point conversions. In other words, an extra point kick produced, on average, 0.942 points, while a two-point conversion attempt produced, on average, 0.958 points. The risks already (slightly) outweigh the rewards of going for two.

But that’s just on average. Some teams — teams that have a good short-yardage offense and/or a bad kicker — were leaving significant points on the board when they decided to take the allegedly safe option of kicking the extra point. Take the Steelers, who converted on eight of their 11 two-point attempts and 32 of their 34 one-point attempts. That means the Steelers scored 1.5 points per two-point try and 0.9 points per one-point try. The Steelers were forfeiting more than half a point, on average, every time they sent their kicker onto the field after a touchdown.

Even if you think your kicker is automatic on extra points (and no kicker truly is, as the Patriots found out when Stephen Gostkowski missed his first extra point in a decade in the AFC Championship Game), if you have confidence in your offense you’re better off going for two. Packers coach Mike McCarthy is one of the coaches who said recently that he’d consider making two-point conversions the default option, and he’d be wise to do so. Even though the Packers went 36-for-36 on extra points last year, they were better on two-point conversions, converting on four of six attempts, or 1.3 points per two-point try. The Packers’ season ended when they lost in overtime to the Cardinals in the playoffs, an overtime they forced with an Aaron Rodgers Hail Mary followed by a Mason Crosby extra point. McCarthy should have trusted Rodgers to win the game with a two-point conversion at the end of the fourth quarter, rather than trusting Crosby to tie the game and then hoping that overtime would work out in the Packers’ favor.

No team would always go for two because there are still some late-game situations in which a 90 percent chance at one point is better than a 50 percent chance at two points. If you score a touchdown in the final minute to tie a game, you’re always going to kick the extra point to win by one, rather than try for the conversion and win by two.

But those rare instances aside, there’s little doubt that many if not most teams would be better off with a strategy of going for two most of the time.

So why don’t coaches do it? Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter answered that question honestly this week.

“We’ve studied it, and mathematically, it does make sense,” Koetter acknowledged, before adding, “Say we go out there that first game, and we score three touchdowns and we don’t make any two pointers and we lose 21-18. Who’s going to get killed?”

Koetter is right — he’s going to get killed if he makes going for two the default option and he fails. But guess what? You took a job as a head coach in the NFL. Your decisions are going to be second-guessed. It comes with the territory. If you’re going to be second-guessed anyway, you might as well get second-guessed for the strategy that you admitted makes sense, mathematically. That strategy is going for two most of the time. It’s time for some coach to have the guts to follow the risky — but smart — strategy. Some coach might follow that strategy and lose 21-18, but another coach is going to follow that strategy and win 22-21, and when he does, he’ll be hailed for having both guts and brains.

51 responses to “It’s time for a coach to have some guts on going for two

  1. If a coach makes the correct moves and goes for it on 4th down, as Belichick did 6 years ago against Peyton Manning and the Colts and it doesn’t work out, the ‘geniuses’ in the media will lambaste them.
    A coach will be ridiculed by the media and it can harm them keeping their job.

  2. I think it’s time they moved the line of scrimmage from the 2 to the 5 yard line for two point conversions. Or eliminate it altogether.

  3. I’ve seen the mathematics (static statistics) that indicate you should go for 2 all the time, I think that, before teams go that route they should explore another branch of mathematics, game theory. I suspect that application of game theory, specifically optimal mixed strategies, would lead teams to use the 2 point conversion exactly the way they do now.

    Assuming that the success rate of 2pt conversions (I think slightly more than 50%) will continue with increased use is unwarranted (at least IMO). As teams start using the 2pt more, defensive teams will work of defending them more and I believe the result will be a drop in the success rate. I could be wrong, but, would a HC, whose job may be on the line, be willing to make that bet?

  4. I always find it amusing when commentators who bear no personal risk of adverse conaequences spend their time critiquing others for not doing something that does affect the careers of others.

    If I’m a coach, I might go for 2 pts more often, but since it’s my a$$ on the line, I’m going to do whatever gives me the most confidence about the outcome.

  5. There are still strategic advantages to the kick at certain times and scores of the game. Increased two point tries may be justified, but more than rudimentary calculations are involved.

  6. Momentum, the mysterious psychological aspect of the game has to be considered. Not making the two point conversion is an immediate momentum swing back to the team preventing it. Thus coaches will rightfully be reluctant to do this for the emotional let down potential that is far greater then one point gained.

    Going for it on fourth down is the smarter play depending on field position and distance.

  7. Common mistake is thinking you should be risk averse in scoring points since we are conditioned to that with money in real life. Doesn’t work that way with points in a game though.

  8. There’s too much of a discrepancy in the number of extra point tries to 2-point conversion tries. A total of 1,311 TDs (1,217 extra point tries + 94 2-point tries) and there was only 94 attempts at the 2-point conversion. The more often you do something the lower percentage of success. If the numbers were closer to 50-50 you’d have a better comparison. But then you’re still talking averages. That’s like saying a RB averages 4.5 ypc so just give it to him every play and you’ll pick up a 1st down after every 3rd down.

    And then there’s game situations to consider. And how a game is playing out. And too many variables to make a blanket statement that teams need to go for the 2-point conversion as their main strategy. How is a game unfolding? How does your offense match up with the opposing defense? If you’re going to use your starters for the 2-point conversion, you’re adding extra risk for an injury. Imagine a starting QB getting hurt on a 2-point try. Or your LT. Or a bread and butter RB.

  9. The logic fails to acknowledged the Patriots had a chance to tie the game at the end if they had converted on a 2-point attempt. They failed. In fact, the offence struggled all day on 3rd & short and 4th & short — just some additional factors that must be weighed.

    The Broncos, particularly that defense, were the better team that day. It wouldn’t have mattered how point after attempts unfolded. They would’ve found a way to win the game. That’s what champions do.

  10. What’s up with this all or nothing approach? I would think an approach based on the strenghts of the teams assets such as having a great kicker and a great offensive line vs. the strengths of the opposing defense along with the game situation will call for the right risk / reward decision should determine if a coach goes for 1 or 2 points. If his job is on the line (which wins or losses are the main factor) he will make a decision he can live with the results.

  11. I’ve seen people make the stupid logic that onside kick should occur every single time as well. It’s based on the fact that the surprise onside kick works over 40% of the time.
    Well guess what…
    1)It’s not a surprise if you do it every time.
    2)the teams that so it see something on tape such as their opponents front line bailing out before the kick.
    3)The head coach is trying to keep his job first, and if you fail and lose as a result, a coach with the same record or maybe one extra win is probably going to have a much better chance of keeping his job if he plays it safe.
    4)People tend not to consider the “butterfly effect” or “domino effect” or “snowball effect” or “quicksand effect” where a failed outcome allows the other team to get an early lead, which requires more risk taking and unbalanced offense and that leads to trailing by two score game a larger percentage of the time.

    Teams SHOULD onside kick MORE if they’re trailing and have SOME (as opposed to HIGH) conviction BASED on what they see on tape that they can recover the onside kick. In other words, they can afford to have the league average success rate on surprise onside kicks go lower and still succeed often enough to expect to win more games.

  12. Packer coaches lost the Seattle game and the Arizona game, not the players. Maybe, just maybe, some younger coaches can influence the old-guard and convince them to play to win, instead of playing it safe and playing not to lose……… and ultimately losing anyway!

    The Packers still have top five talent and will contend again at or near the final four. There’s nothing in the tea leaves that says differently.

    Closing it out with a never surrender attitude as opposed to the regular “sit on your hands and play it safe,” mindset might finally enable the dynasty that should take place, to actually take place.

    And to the haters that will be here soon…..Wide Left. That says all that needs to be said.

  13. Can’t wait for week two, when it sounds like the Pack will be willing to settle for 6 points only any time they score against our defense. They will not succeed in any of these two point attempts against this defense. Oh, but they have to score before they can even contemplate going for two….that in itself might be a major hurdle.

  14. It seems like the same argument as with basketball and the use of the 3-point shot. You use the 3-point shot more if you have outstanding outside shooters. You work it inside if you have a great game inside the paint.

    The decision to go for a 2-point conversion “every time” can’t be separated from a consideration of the personnel you have, as well as the defenders the other team has.

    The teams with the threat of an excellent running QB–Cam Newton and Russell Wilson–are the teams that probably make the most sense to go for a 2-point conversion more of the time, but you still have to assess the team speed and the tackling of the defenders.

  15. Coaches get blamed when things don’t end up working.

    McCarthy gets flack for not going for 2 because his team lost in OT. Had they not made the 2 after the Hail Mary he’d get hell.

    People second guess Bellichek for not kicking field goals in the AFC title game because of the way things turned out.

  16. It would be stupid for any team to go for 2 every time.
    Everybody talks about the Steelers great percentage but look at it. They were 6-6 against the Browns,49ers,Raiders & Colts but failed against good defenses like Seattle,Arizona,Cincinnati & St.Louis in fact if Jeremi Hill didn`t fumble in the Wild Card game the Steelers would`ve lost 16-15 after failing on a 2pt try at 5:02 in the 3rd QT. Were would this stupid conversation be then? Where would Tomlin be?

  17. I like the 2pt conversion, and I think teams shoud go for it more often than they do, but the obvious math is bogus.
    As an optional play, teams only have chosen to run it in the past when either

    1) They have no other choice to remain in the game
    2) They think they can pull it off. — If your O-line is struggling, you don’t run the play. If your running back is getting stuffed and you don’t have a tight end with good hands, then you don’t run the play, when you can take the XP.

    The 2nd part of this skews the percentages. You end up with teams only running it when the odds are strongly in their favor, thus their success rates are higher than they would be if it was a routine play. the success rate would be lower than 47.9%
    More importantly, the more times teams run the 2-point conversion, the more time teams will spend learning how to defend the play, and success rates will drop.

    I don’t think the numbers will move by very much, but the odds of this approach are not as straightforward as available data would suggest. Still, it would be an interesting approach, and might work for some teams.

  18. I suggest the NFL eliminates the punt. Team has to use all 4 downs in an effort to get a first down. Now, THAT would be interesting and it would cut down on injuries

  19. Lost in the discussion is the increased risk of injury to skill players on the conversion versus the relatively static nature of a PAT.

  20. How soon people forget that Green Bay had zero healthy wideouts at the end of the Arizona game… I agree, coaches should go for two more. But that example is a bad one.

  21. How about a possible rule change?

    If the first team to score a TD goes for 2 points, regardless of success or failure, both teams must go for 2 points for the entirety of the game.

  22. Going for 2 automatically is like going first in a golf playoff. If you miss, the other guy can play it safe and walk off with the victory.

  23. Nobody can ever accuse Mike McCarthy of not having enough guts…

    and it was definitely the coaches fault for not tackling Larry Fitzgerald, I don’t understand how they could miss him time and again…

  24. And the winning comment is…

    “I go for two after every score. Two more beers, that is.”


  25. If you wanted to make going for two more prevalent, you shouldn’t have cried so much when teams got beat by a field goal in the first possession of overtime. Going for the tie should have remained risky.

  26. Missing from Michael David Smith’s analysis:

    1, Turnover risk on 2-pt. conversion.

    2, Is it more likely there is a successful fumble/INT return on a 2-pt. try than an extra point try?

  27. This situation is ripe for someone to go for two from the kicking formation at the 15. No one would expect it, prepare for it, or have personnel in for it. How humiliating would that be for the opposing team?

  28. I have NO problem with GB kicking the XP in that situation, Crosby didn’t miss one all season, and made that one.

    If he goes for 2 a doesn’t convert you guys would Crucify him for that as well.

  29. It’s more complicted than your presenting with your stats, as you are assuming your sample’s data would remain consistent at a higher rate. The problem with averages is that it applies broadly, and doesn’t take into account game situations, opposing defenses, weather, etc all which vary week to week and increase/decrease chance of success. You can also easily argue diminishing returns. The two-point rate is likely higher BECAUSE it’s not done often. If teams started doing it every time, they’d either need a massive goalline playbook or teams would learn to defend their handful of 2pt plays.

    Maybe you should give those NFL coaches the benefit of the doubt instead of arguing that an average of less than 2 hundredths of a point increase per attempt is a clear better option. And that’s not even including the obvious increase in injury risk.

    By your logic, successful stock traders should just buy everything because they’ve usually been successful in the past. The more stocks they buy, the more money they’ll make.

  30. Packers should have gone for two in that game in that situation; I suspect and hope that its not fear of media criticism that motivates coaching decisions.

    The Packers were in a hostile environment. They had just taken back momentum in a big way and had the Cardinals on their emotional heels. They were down to their number 5 and 6 receivers on the depth chart (No Jordy, Cobb, Adams, Montgomery). AND they had/have the best QB in the game. Yes, they shoulda gone for two but whats done is done.

    Lacey’s in shape, the offensive line is healthy, the receiving corps if deeper and faster with a promising free agent addition at tight end, and the young defense is maturing with Matthews moving back outside. We are so ready for some football.

  31. If ou’re going to draft a bust do it as Super Bowl Champions with the 32 pick.

    That Ponder pick was horrid though, look at all the players after him that would have been better, he’ll even Dalton or Kaepernick in the second or waiting til then to take Ponder would have been tolerable

  32. “…But guess what? You took a job as a head coach in the NFL. Your decisions are going to be second-guessed. It comes with the territory. …”

    Says the guy who pays no (“0”) cost for failed two-point conversions…

    Decisions are always easier in the cheap seats…

    Just sayin’…

  33. “When debate is lost, slander is the tool of the loser.”

    Still true.

  34. Crosby never missed a single extra point last season. It was hardly a risk.

    In addition, the Packers were outplaying the Cardinals in that game. There’s no way McCarthy would know there would suddenly be a botched coverage.

    He made the correct call. The wrong call would have been going for 2.

  35. Are you really calling a .01 point difference a huge difference?

    2 point conversions are below 50% the numbers are so close that it is insignificant. If a team can come up with a sure fire way to come up with a 2 pt try at a 75% rate, then yes, that team should go for it every time. But as it stands now, teams are going to wait to pull out he big guns for important moments in games and in the playoffs. Going for 2 every time is probably not the right call. As many coaches have said, there are only so many plays for 2 yards in the playbook.

    Imo if a team is batting .500 with 2 pt tries. They should just stick with PATs. Until they can come up with a better game plan for 2 pt conversions.

  36. This math is way too simplistic. You cannot compare a 1,000-point sample size to a 100-point sample size.

  37. Great coaches aren’t looking to prove guts to writers and other second guessers. Belichick wins with brains and situational probability.

  38. avdabr says: Jun 18, 2016 8:35 AM

    I think it’s time they moved the line of scrimmage from the 2 to the 5 yard line for two point conversions. Or eliminate it altogether.


    Disagree. Move it to the 1 yard line, not further away. That guarantees more 2 attempts and fewer boring PATs.

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