After each of their first two touchdowns in Sunday’s beatdown of the 49ers, the Pittsburgh Steelers went for two. They converted both times, and are now 3-3 on the season. According to Ben Roethlisberger, they’re going to keep on going for two. Via ESPN:
“Oh, we’re going to keep doing it,” Roethlisberger said. “We don’t practice it this much to not do it. We practice it every single day. ... I tried to tell you guys early on that we would do it, and I think you guys kind of didn’t quite believe it. But it’s something we feel comfortable with.”
The rule the NFL implemented this offseason moving extra point kicks back to the 15-yard line is already having a large effect. Kickers have missed nine extra points so far, more than the eight they missed all of last season, and the Steelers make at least one team that is loudly and publicly altering their decision making process.
The ESPN article has an interesting table comparing the first two weeks of the season to the first two weeks of last season:
|Extra points||139-140 (99%)||146-155 (94%)|
|2-point conversions||4-11 (36%)||8-15 (53%)|
Last season the two-point conversion percentage was 47.5%, while historically it hovers around 45%, going up or down a handful of percentage points each season. Roughly, the average team is about as well off going for two as they are kicking the PAT, though others using different sets of numbers with different assumptions think differently.
And that’s sort of the point: not every team is average, and not every situation is the same. Some teams have great goal line backs, while others don’t. Some teams have perfect kickers, while others don’t. Some teams are playing against good defenses, while others are playing against the Bears. Some teams need just one point to seal a game, while others need two to keep it alive.
The Steelers—because of some combination of play design, Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, Heath Miller, their offensive line, and a million other factors—believe they will convert way more than 45% of their two-point attempts. If that is indeed the case, they’re probably going to keep on going for two. What will be interesting is seeing how much the Steelers stick with the strategy after they miss a few. Will they keep on going for two if their success rate dips down to 60% or lower?
This sort of feels like where the NBA was in regards to the three-point line a number of years ago. Everybody can see that the basic math has shifted, but not every team is going to jump at once. Instead it will be teams like the Steelers that are less risk-averse and seeking every statistical advantage: call them the Houston Rockets of the NFL.
But the way things are going, the question doesn’t seem to be if anybody else will join the Steelers, but when and who will join them.
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