Former NFL player and scout Bucky Brooks knows the ins and outs of this league, providing keen insight in his weekly notebook. The topics of this edition include:
But first, a look at the increased frequency of two-point conversion attempts ...
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TWO-POINT CONVERSIONS: Are NFL teams being too aggressive?
If you're expecting me to nod my head "yes" after watching a number of teams fail to convert in Week 10, you are mistaken. I absolutely love seeing coaches bypass the traditional extra point in hopes of exploiting the math equation that many observers ignore. Just like the three-point shot has changed the way basketball is played, the two-point conversion (and the decision to move PATs back to the 15-yard line) is altering the way forward-thinking NFL coaches are approaching the extra point.
Instead of settling for a traditional kick that is only converted at a 94.8 percent rate, teams are increasingly seeing the value in taking their chances on a short-yardage play from the 3-yard line that adds a bonus point to a touchdown. Based on simple math, the current two-point conversion rates (54.0 percent) bring about a higher rate of return while also changing the game plans for the opponents. For instance, a team jumping out to an 8-0 or 16-0 lead forces conservative-minded opponents to potentially scrap their original game plans to chase points early in the game. Thus, the aggressive play not only benefits the offense, but it puts the defense in a better position to dictate the terms in critical situations.
This brings me back to what we witnessed in Week 10 -- particularly with the Pittsburgh Steelers, but also with a host of other teams aggressively attempting two-point conversions in a variety of situations. While the conservative think tank took a number of coaches to task for their aggressive failures (NFL teams converted only 4 of 13 attempts in Week 10), they reserved most of their critiques for Mike Tomlin after the Steelers went 0-for-4 on two-point tries against the Dallas Cowboys. Now, I certainly understand the arm-chair quarterbacking after their failures, but Tomlin's decisions made sense based on the team's track record with the two-point attempts. Prior to Week 10, the Steelers had converted 14 of their 17 two-point tries over the past two seasons, which is why Ben Roethlisbergercampaigned for the team to go for two after every touchdown during the offseason.
With the NFL conversion rate hovering at 60 percent through the first nine weeks of the season, it is easy to see why the Steelers elected to take their chances early in the game to put the Cowboys behind the eight ball. In fact, I don't begrudge any of these gamblers attempting to cash in on the bonus points. The hidden points accumulated over the course of the season will eventually pay huge dividends, but I wish offensive coordinators would reconsider their preferred method of attack. Instead of solely attacking through the air, I believe more play callers should lean on running plays on two-point conversions. Let me explain ...
Looking at the numbers, it's alarming to see so many coaches rely on passes on two-point tries. NFL teams have converted only 50 percent (24 of 48) two-point attempts through the air compared to the 66.7 percent conversion rate (10 of 15) on the ground. Considering the 69.2 percent conversion rate (9 of 13) on two-point rushing attempts heading into Week 10, I'm astonished more teams elected to throw the ball with bonus points on the line.
I'm sure conventional wisdom suggests putting the ball in the hands of your best player, which is the quarterback in many cases, but the condensed area (13 yards from the line of scrimmage to the back line of the end zone) makes it tougher for passing plays to work. In addition, the preferred route of choice (fade or back-shoulder fade) is essentially a jump ball between a receiver and a defensive back in the corner. With the "alley-oop" amounting to a coin flip, teams should reconsider the over-reliance on the low-percentage throw in key moments. Whether it is a sprint-out option pass with a run-pass option for the quarterback or a rub concept with multiple receivers instructed to inadvertently pick designated defensive backs, play callers must dig deeper in the playbook to exploit the advantages of the two-point equation.
In the end, I applaud coaches for taking more risks, but I'm hoping more explore other alternatives to enhance their chances of cashing in their bonus points.