NFL morning after: Coaches should learn from missed extra points

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It was the Sunday of the missed extra point, and I loved it. Even though I hope we never see another one like it.

Let me explain: Yesterday there were 12 missed extra points, more extra points missed than ever before in any week in NFL history. That is an extraordinary outcome of the NFL’s year-and-a-half-old rule, which made extra points harder by pushing them back 13 yards farther. I love the fact that an extra point is no longer a gimme that you don’t even bother to watch.

But here’s why I hope we never see another day like yesterday in the NFL: Because I hope coaches finally learn from all these missed extra points and start going for two as the rule, not the exception. I’d love to see some weekend in the NFL when teams don’t even attempt, let alone miss, 11 extra points, because two-point conversions are a far more entertaining play. And what do we watch football for, if not to be entertained?

Now that extra points aren’t gimmes, going for two is the mathematically smart play: Two-point conversions are made about 50 percent of the time, and extra point kicks are made about 94 percent of the time. So the average expected value of a two-point conversion is 1 point, while the expected value of an extra point kick is 0.94 points. Obviously, it’s a small difference, but it’s still a difference. Coaches do all kinds of things to try to give their team the slightest of edges. So why not go for two more often, when it will give their team a slight edge?

The answer is that football coaches are conservative traditionalists by nature, and a lot of the time the reason they do things is because, “We’ve always done it that way.”

But that’s a bad reason to do things. “We’ve always done it that way” comes from a time when teams could always count on their kickers to make extra points. As we saw across the NFL yesterday, that’s no longer the case. Now, kickers miss more extra points on one Sunday than they missed in an entire season before last year’s rule change.

[tweet https://twitter.com/MichaelDavSmith/status/800454421058617345%5D

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin has begun going for two more often than most coaches do, but even Tomlin kicks more often than he goes for two. It’s past time for coaches to not only emulate Tomlin, but go beyond what Tomlin has done, and make going for two the default option. Some day some coach is going to do it, and when his team wins a game by a point, he’ll be hailed as a genius. I won’t even take credit for it.

Here are my other thoughts on Sunday’s action:

Sen’Derrick Marks made the bonehead play of the year. Marks, a Jaguars defensive tackle, jumped offside on a fourth-and-2 hard count by the Lions that was so obviously just an attempt to draw them offside that the Lions might as well have announced it on the Ford Field jumbotron. There was never any chance that the Lions were going for it on the play, but their offense lined up and Matthew Stafford started barking out signals. Amazingly, Marks jumped offside, handing the Lions a new set of downs that they used to put the game away in a hard-fought win. Players hardly ever jump offside in that situation because players know that the fourth-down hard count is the oldest trick in the book. But apparently Marks didn’t know.

Ben Roethlisberger, Cleveland nemesis. I know I wrote last week that I don’t like quarterback wins, but I’m going to share this stat anyway: Yesterday the Steelers won their 10th game started by Ben Roethlisberger in Cleveland’s FirstEnergy Stadium. That’s as many wins as any Browns quarterback has in the stadium — and the Browns have been playing there since 1999. Think about that: The Browns have quarterbacks starting in that stadium eight times a year, for 17 years. They’ve played there 133 times. Roethlisberger has played there 12 times. And Roethlisberger has won as many starts as any Browns quarterback. That’s an ugly demonstration of just how bad the Browns have been since re-joining the league.

No, the Cowboys’ offensive line isn’t the MVP. Whenever a great player bursts onto the scene, there’s an inevitable backlash of people who want to claim that player isn’t really so great. This year, there’s been a backlash against both of the Cowboys’ great rookies, Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott. And the backlash has taken the form of claiming that the Cowboys’ offensive line really deserves the credit that Prescott and Elliott are getting. I’ve even seen arguments that the Cowboys’ offensive line deserves to be the MVP of the league, a bizarre claim that defies the very idea of what an MVP is. (It’s a most valuable player, singular, not a most valuable group of players, and you can’t give it to a whole offensive line just like you can’t make an entire secondary the Defensive Player of the Year.) But if you watched Elliott and Prescott play yesterday against a very good Ravens defense, I hope it was obvious what special players they are. No, not just “anyone can run behind the Cowboys’ line,” as I’ve seen people say. Yesterday Elliott ran for 97 yards and put the game away late, while backups Alfred Morris and Lance Dunbar, running behind that same Cowboys line, combined for five yards on three carries. Both Morris and Dunbar have career-low yards per carry averages this season, strongly suggesting that not just “anyone” can run behind that Cowboys line. Prescott had 301 yards, three touchdowns and no turnovers. You don’t do that just because your line is protecting you. The Cowboys have the same offensive line this year that they had last year, when they had perhaps the worst offense in the NFL. Prescott and Elliott are the reason for this year’s turnaround.

Chip Kelly’s personnel mistakes are legion. When you look at this year’s Eagles, it’s really stunning to see that they’ve built a good team despite inheriting a huge personnel mess from Chip Kelly. Last year, when Kelly was given total control over all the personnel decisions, the team stunk. This year, they’ve tried to reverse almost all of his big moves: They traded away Sam Bradford, DeMarco Murray, Byron Maxwell and Kiko Alonso, and they’d love to trade away Kelly’s first-round pick, Nelson Agholor, if only anyone would take him in a trade. (An awful Agholor drop yesterday is what made me decide to mention this.) The 5-5 Eagles are probably a year away from getting back to the playoffs, but it’s a testimony to G.M. Howie Roseman and coach Doug Pederson that they’ve been able to pick up the pieces in Philadelphia, because the team Kelly left them was in shambles.

Bill Belichick, analytics maven. Belichick got some laughs when he scoffed last week about analytics websites, but as I detailed here, Belichick is actually a believer in analytics. He may not be a believer in the publicly available data online, but Belichick considers the Patriots’ football research director Ernie Adams one of his closest advisors, and he studies statistics closely. Given that, I have high hopes that Belichick will be the first coach to eschew extra point kicks and make the two-point conversion the norm. That’s the future of football.

40 responses to “NFL morning after: Coaches should learn from missed extra points

  1. Your refusal to acknowledge the flaw in your extra point logic is sad. Every time you push it a hundred commenters point it out.

    Teams only have so many good 2 point plays. Part of the success rate relates to that. Assuming the same success rate on a higher attempt rate is horribly flawed.

    For someone who appreciates the science of the ideal gas law, it’s mind boggling that you don’t understand the law of diminishing returns.

  2. Slightly disingenuous to not mention that the weather effected a lot of those extra point misses yesterday. Going for two isn’t so exciting when you are chasing points like Tomlin did last week.

  3. The Steelers have tried six this year, but only made two. That’s 33%. Keep running with this narrative, though.

  4. Teams have a limited number of short goal line plays. Going for 2 all the time will expose the plays they should keep in reserve for TD tries instead.

  5. The object of the game is to score points. A 95% chance at 1 point is still better than a 40% chance at 2 points.

  6. Going for two works great against bad teams, against whom good teams don’t need extra points. Going for two works less often against good teams, when every point counts. Therefore, it is smarter to take the 90% chance of an extra point than it is to risk a greater than 50% chance of walking away with nothing.

  7. Same coaches who go for two as a rule and lose by one due to failed tries are hailed as point chasing idiots, not geniuses.
    Points are at a premium, going for two makes sense in the context of each individual game, not as a rule where none of how the game goes down is considered.
    Analytics don’t add up when you are down 9 with 2 minutes to go because you went 1 for 4 on 2 point conversions when your opponent played it straight and kicked extra points all game long…

  8. I really like the rule change and I hope that teams WILL try more 2 point conversions in the future. I also wish that there was some way to allow a 3 point conversion play so that teams are not mathematically eliminated in some games. For example, one team is down 9 points with 20 seconds left in the 4th quarter. They score a TD for 6 points, but, even if they convert the 2 point conversion, they would be short a point. They might try an onside kick which work very few times. How about a regular extra point kick that would be worth 3 points because it has to be done by a drop kick? You don’t see drop kicks anymore because they are so hard to make. However, with a chance to do a drop kick to tie a game up by awarding extra points might be worth a try. If he misses it, you still have the onside kick and the hail mary.

  9. As hyperbolic discounting reveals, anyone is capable of running behind that O-line. Also as anyone truly familiar with tantra training is familiar, the ultimate goal of the O-line is to play so seamlessly as to be considered woven as one. As that is how the Cowboys O-line is playing, I see no reason why they the entire line should not be considered tantric MVP. I’m pretty sure Ernie Adams would agree with me.

  10. I love commentators who deride going for two by bringing up individual game situations. Yes, they may be correct in that INSTANCE, but the advantage of going for two pays out over a long period of time across many games. That’s the point of analytics; what is best the majority of the time over many attempts.

  11. Belichick was asked about this last night and he still defended the kick as the better option, so don’t hold your breath for him to he leading the vanguard.

  12. marmac2768 says:
    Nov 21, 2016 9:12 AM
    I really like the rule change and I hope that teams WILL try more 2 point conversions in the future. I also wish that there was some way to allow a 3 point conversion play so that teams are not mathematically eliminated in some games. For example, one team is down 9 points with 20 seconds left in the 4th quarter. They score a TD for 6 points, but, even if they convert the 2 point conversion, they would be short a point. They might try an onside kick which work very few times. How about a regular extra point kick that would be worth 3 points because it has to be done by a drop kick? You don’t see drop kicks anymore because they are so hard to make. However, with a chance to do a drop kick to tie a game up by awarding extra points might be worth a try. If he misses it, you still have the onside kick and the hail mary.
    ——-
    Why stop at 3 point conversiins? How about tie up conversions that if a team converts it automatically ties the score…..that way even teams getting blown out can be in the game!

  13. Yes, the Dallas OL is the team’s MVP. I’m a Cowboy fan, so I know it better than anyone. No, Alfred Morris is proof of nothing when it comes to Elliot; Morris isn’t used in the same way, and gets very few touches at the best time of the game, once the OL has worn down the opposing DL and opens huge holes.

    WATCH WITH YOUR EYES. Elliot has good vision and decent speed, but he almost NEVER earns extra yards unless the OL gives him 5 yards of momentum to use, which is not the same as having power. He is below average at making a defender miss when he is 1 on 1 in space, and while he has good speed, he doesn’t have elite breakaway speed.

    Elliot isn’t an elite rusher. He is a good one, and that’s nothing to scoff at, but on an average team he would be a 1,200 yard rusher. He gets to tack on HUGE chunks of yards because of the holes he gets that nobody else in the NFL gets on so regular a basis. And Prescott, while doing as well as can be expected as a rookie (and so deserves huge praise), is putting up bigger numbers than he is worth because he gets excellent blocking AND opposing defenses have to focus on stopping the run AND Dez Bryant beats defenders downfield even when Prescott makes a terrible throw (did you see the awful underthrow he had on Sunday despite the cleanest pocket of all time that Bryant saved him on? No? Shocker).

    You can say it isn’t the OL. You’re wrong.

  14. 12brichandfamous says:
    Nov 21, 2016 9:36 AM
    I love commentators who deride going for two by bringing up individual game situations. Yes, they may be correct in that INSTANCE, but the advantage of going for two pays out over a long period of time across many games. That’s the point of analytics; what is best the majority of the time over many attempts.
    =======================
    I’m pretty sure I don’t agree but I’m not certain I understand your point. But I do know that very few analysts would agree with that relatively narrow conclusion. A team that regularly wins by 17+ points probably wouldn’t see the benefit of a two point conversion especially when considering that most players are hurt during the types of plays required to score the two points. And as has been pointed out before, current statistics don’t support your predilection for two point conversions. And to suggest. Belichick might become an early champion for this approach based on his acknowledged understanding and use of analytics, misses the whole concept of analytics and his use of it. It’s not to follow an approach that seems to suitable or not follow one that doesn’t appear suitable the majority of the time. It’s to identify the conditions where a slam dunk approach routinely fails or a high risk approach rarely fails. Much more to it than that, but no space for that discussion. Glad you posted your comment t though.

  15. .

    pointless article. the answer is not to go for 2…

    It’s to chew out the kickers who suddenly can get the ball accurately between the poles 13yards more away.
    practice practice practice.

    no excuse

  16. I hate the new rule. Eleven guys fight as hard as they can and some “idiot kicker” makes the game more competitive than it needs to be. This and the new kickoff rule are not helping the ratings, and, personally, I think the billionaire owners should have stopped meddling with the game some time in the 1970’s. But, that’s okay. Let’s make the game more appealing to people who really don’t care while alienating our loyal fan base.

    #cubanwasright

  17. It’s been crazy-windy for two days in NYC, so no surprise that the winds at MetLife ate footballs. Meaning if there were ever a day to try something different, it was yesterday. But McAdoo is conservative in all things, so no surprise he didn’t go for two.

    I also start to understand why the Giants looked the other way so much on Brown: kicking in the Muddlelands is HARD. Not excusing the Giants at all – I am still royally pissed with how they handled things and wish Brown had never been re-signed – but somewhere in the cold calculations was the notion that once you find someone who can handle the winds, you keep him till he can’t handle the winds.

  18. Yesterday the Steelers won their 10th game started by Ben Roethlisberger in Cleveland’s FirstEnergy Stadium.
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    Yes …. Small Ben was 23 of 36 for 167 yards with ZERO TDs while hanging a sweet, sweet 17 points on a winless team but the Steeler defense held the Browns to 9 points and scored a defensive TD to hand the win to him. That’s just how good Big Ben is.

  19. Would you stop beating that drum or at least attempt to understand how probabilities work please?

    50% means over a large sample you may get an average of 1 point per attempt. In a small sample, like in a game for example, you can miss every one. It’s the same as flipping a coin. You can get 10 heads in a row. It’s not like you will be successful one out of every two times.

    At 94%, for the kick, it is clearly more dependable. You miss around 1 out of every 20.

    Within a game it’s the smarter decision because going for two when you don’t need do adds an unnecessary element of chance to the game.

    you flip tails and you maybe lose the game.

  20. I think the more interesting strategy argument is what to do at the end of a game if a TD puts a team up by 1.

    Going for two to make it a 3 point lead for example could back fire and a return for a score would give the other team the lead with your team kicking off.

    Going for one is kind of pointless. You already have the lead.

    Might be best to kneel it depending on the clock and how the other team has been moving it.

    See Denver’s recent win.

  21. The state of kicking in the NFL is bad and it’s not getting better any time soon. I watch a lot of college ball and literally two or three teams in the whole lot have a kicker who might have the stuff for the next level and the rest of them are pretty much worthless outside of 35 yards.

  22. I hate the new rule. It gives the kicker even more impact than before. It’s bad enough that the game is decided by someone who’s rarely on the field but now it’s even worse.

  23. sdelmonte says:
    Nov 21, 2016 11:17 AM
    It’s been crazy-windy for two days in NYC, so no surprise that the winds at MetLife ate footballs…….

    I also start to understand why the Giants looked the other way so much on Brown: kicking in the Muddlelands is HARD. Not excusing the Giants at all – I am still royally pissed with how they handled things and wish Brown had never been re-signed – but somewhere in the cold calculations was the notion that once you find someone who can handle the winds, you keep him till he can’t handle the winds.
    ==========================
    I wish you were wrong about the basis of their decision to sign Brown, but you are not.
    What is the NFL going to do about that? Nothing. Mara should be banned for five years and Goodell fired over this. But that won’t happen. Sad.

  24. I am not sure why you are so high on the Eagles player moves? Murray is the NFL’s second leading rusher, Kiko is doing well in Miami, and Bradford’s Vikings hare sitting at 6 wins. If anything, Chip brought in several good players that the Eagles just could not figure out how to use.

  25. gridironmike says:

    I hate the new rule. Eleven guys fight as hard as they can and some “idiot kicker” makes the game more competitive than it needs to be.

    —————-

    The same “idiot kicker” that puts up a FG and saves the offense because your “eleven guys” couldn’t fight hard enough to score a touchdown…

    This is a team game, and disparaging a teammate is downright stupid. I don’t see a qb with a 100% completion rate or a WR without drops or a RB that doesn’t have a few negative runs.

    But thanks for your rant, Mr. Perfect.

  26. southpaw79 says:
    Nov 21, 2016 12:28 PM
    I am not sure why you are so high on the Eagles player moves? Murray is the NFL’s second leading rusher, Kiko is doing well in Miami, and Bradford’s Vikings hare sitting at 6 wins. If anything, Chip brought in several good players that the Eagles just could not figure out how to use.
    ____________________

    I was going to post this. Murray was badly misused by Chip but the Eagles could have hung onto him and taken a lot of pressure off their rookie QB. He is running extremely well in Tennessee.

    Alonso is flying around the ball in Miami and making big plays. Last season in Philly was his first season removed from ACL surgery. He didn’t look ready to play, but now he is. Philly gambled on him and didn’t wait to see what card was flipped.

    They got a great return for Bradford and unloaded Maxwell’s huge contract, so I’ll give them credit for those moves.

  27. not an eagles fan by any means but losing desean for nothing is a travesty. image him and matthews instead of sorry agholor. and lets not forget about shady who is much better than mathews. chip kelly is terrible.

  28. Just last week, this site was second-guessing the Steelers for going for two every time.

    Now that we had a week with 12 misses, you are advocating teams go for two most of the time?

    Which is it? Can’t have it both ways, Mikey. Although, I agree teams should go for two most of the time, also.

  29. “See guys, it’s not just me out there missing extra points.”

    – Blair Walsh”

    Yeah, and you’re not the only kicker that’s going to be out of work this week.

  30. gridironmike says:

    I hate the new rule. Eleven guys fight as hard as they can and some “idiot kicker” makes the game more competitive than it needs to be.”

    I disagree completely!! That “idiot kicker” can only hit kicks as close as he can get. Somewhere, somehow, the offense did something to get him close enough to try a field goal or scored a TD to have a chance for an extra point. He is just as much a part of the game as the other players are. Ask Jim O’Brien of the 1971 Colts. Also, ask the members of the 1971 Colts. He won the Superbowl with a field goal at the end of the game. The offense came down the field to a position that gave him a chance to win it and he did what he was supposed to do.

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