Game Management  

 

Conversion confusion: When going for two, wait 'til the fourth

Back in the early 1970s, Dick Vermeil -- then an assistant coach at UCLA -- developed a chart for head coach Tommy Prothro to determine at what point in the game a team should go for one point or attempt a two-point conversion. Vermeil's chart (see box) has widely been used on every level of football since then, and it was used in two games this past weekend in the NFL.

This is the crux of the two-point conversion chart developed by Dick Vermeil in the '70s. But as Michael Lombardi notes, it does not take into account time remaining or probability of success.
Lead By What To Do Trail By What To Do
1 point Go for 2   1 point Go for 1
2 points Go for 1   2 points Go for 2
3 points Go for 1   3 points Go for 1
4 points Go for 2   4 points 50-50
5 points Go for 2   5 points Go for 2
6 points Go for 1   6 points Go for 1
7 points Go for 1   7 points Go for 1
8 points Go for 1   8 points Go for 1
9 points Go for 1   9 points Go for 2
10 points Go for 1   10 points Go for 1
11 points Go for 1   11 points Go for 2
12 points Go for 2   12 points Go for 2
13 points Go for 1   13 points Go for 1
14 points Go for 1 14 points Go for 1
15 points Go for 2 15 points Go for 1
16 points Go for 1 16 points Go for 2
17 points Go for 1 17 points Go for 1
18 points Go for 1 18 points Go for 1
19 points Go for 2 19 points Go for 2
20 points Go for 1 20 points Go for 1

The first time the chart was used was in the second quarter of the Raiders' 25-20 win at the Texans. The Raiders trailed 14-6 when they scored a touchdown with 1:06 to go before halftime. They went for two -- which is exactly what Vermeil's chart advises. (Jason Campbell's pass attempt failed, and the Raiders trailed 14-12 going into halftime.)

Later that day, the chart came into play in the Packers-Falcons game, when the Packers scored a touchdown and went up 15-14 with a little more than three minutes left in the third quarter. The chart indicates to go for two, so the Packers did. Aaron Rodgers' pass was incomplete, but no one faults the decision -- they were just following the chart. However, with 18 minutes remaining in the game, wouldn't the Packers have been better served to just continue to accumulate points?

According to the chart, the two situations above are the same. In reality, they are completely different.

The real problem is that Vermeil's chart only accounts for one of the three factors that go into making the right decision. One missing part is how much time is left in the game, which to me is one of the most important factors. When the Raiders attempted their two-point play, with over 31 minutes left in the game, they were going to get at least six more possessions. So why the sense of urgency to tie the game when there is an entire half to be played?

The third element that needs to be factored into the decision is the probability of being successful on the two-point play. The odds of converting two-point plays are not high -- 137 of 300 since 2006, or a 45.7 percent success rate -- so why pass up an additional point when there is a significant amount of time left in the game? Also, teams normally go into a game with one two-point play -- when they use that specific play early, they are left to improvise if they need another one later.

Therefore, a chart should have the degree of probability of making a two-point play and the amount of time left in the game. When those two are factored together, only then can a correct decision be made.

Without heading to MIT to determine the exact time to go for two, my simple advice is: Continue to add points. Do it until the amount of possessions remaining is dwindling. The discussion to go for two should never occur until the fourth quarter, when possessions are limited. Trust me, Al Davis was looking down, probably screaming for coach Hue Jackson to go for the one point. He was a huge believer in collecting points.

Follow Michael Lombardi on Twitter @michaelombardi

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