On Tuesday, the NFL owners and Competition Committee approved the change regarding the extra point after touchdown for the upcoming 2015 season in a 30-2 vote. The change is that the point after touchdown attempt will be moved to the 15 yard line, making the extra point try (essentially) a 33-yard field goal. An intriguing note in the rule change is the allowance of the defense to score on blocked extra points or failed two point conversions. If an extra point attempt is blocked and returned, the defense scores two points. If the defense also stops and returns a failed two point conversion, they are awarded two points. Previously, the play was simply dead on a failed two point conversion.
Now, with all of the technical language out of the way, we can get down to the bare bones of it.
A WELCOME, ALBEIT UNNECESSARY CHANGE
These new rules regarding the points after touchdowns have largely been well received amongst football fans, but they are also likely unnecessary. It’s true, the point after touchdown could be deemed automatic as the success rate was over 99%. In fact in 2014, only two extra point attempts were missed — Dan Carpenter of the Buffalo Bills and Greg Zuerlein of the St. Louis Rams each missed one. Only four teams in the NFL (the Packers, Bears, Saints and Redskins) had extra point attempts blocked. It boils down to this — of the 1,230 point after touchdown tries in the 2014 NFL season, 1,222 were successful. Again, the point after touchdown was seemingly automatic.
For this reason, the NFL sought to make it more difficult and have the point after touchdown move backward 13 yards. While an understandable and supported change, it doesn’t seem like they’ve truly done enough to make the point after touchdown any more difficult. In the 2014 NFL season, field goal attempts from the 30 to 34 yard line had a 95.8% success rate. If we round up to 96%, the Competition Committee has made it 3% more difficult for kickers to hit the point after touchdown. Using this number as a guideline, if the rule change had been approved last offseason, NFL teams would have been successful 1,178 times. This leads to NFL teams failing on only an additional 44 times.
This is where it gets interesting. The recently approved rule change has the intent of making the two point conversion a more desirable option, but has not succeeded in doing so. According to ESPN Stats and & Information, since 2001, teams have enjoyed a 65.5% success rate on two point conversions from the 1-yard line. That number drops significantly to 46.9% when the two point conversion is attempted from the 2-yard line. Even when discussing the slight dip from 99.3% to 95.9% for the extra point, it still remains the far more attractive option by an astounding 49%. Instead of making the two point conversion a more desirable option, allowing teams to score on a football play instead of simply going through the motions for a point after touchdown, they’ve made the kick go from completely automatic to just astoundingly successful. Perhaps the NFL is using “point expectantcy”, similar to betting odds, to determine that (2 pts * 49%) is an equal point potential to (1 pt * 95.9%).
If the Competition Committee and NFL owners were truly interested in making the two point conversion more desirable than it currently is, the rule change would have also moved the attempt to the 1-yard line from the 2-yard line. As mentioned earlier, the 1-yard change allows teams to enjoy an 18.6% increase in successful attempts. This also narrows the gap from the current 49% differential in the two point conversion and the point after touchdown to 30.4%. While the numbers are still in your favor to simply go with the point after touchdown, the numbers are narrowed significantly and fans would see an instant bump in two point conversions. Interestingly enough, only two teams had a 100% success rate on both point after touchdowns and two point conversions last season: the Minnesota Vikings and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
This rule change seems more like the NFL is trying to find problems and coming up with solutions rather than meeting the problem head-on. The final point regarding this change is the end result. How many fans are going to be infuriated when their team loses games, perhaps games that affect playoff seeding, because their kicker missed the point after touchdown? The outcry when a kicker misses what was once an automatic point and costs the team their shot at the playoffs is going to be deafening. The argument is going to be the excitement this brings to the point after touchdown, and I’d argue the opposite. Teams are going to lose games and potentially miss the playoffs because of missed point after touchdowns, not “football plays”. Ask any Steeler fan how they feel about Ryan Succop of Kansas City missing a routine field goal to cost them the playoffs in 2013.
For now, fans are still going to see the extra point over the two point conversion and it’s going to be overwhelming. The death of the NFL kicker is going to have to wait at least another year.
So, how does all of this affect the Pittsburgh Steelers? Well, not much. Since signing with the Steelers in 2010, Shaun Suisham has hit all 154 of his point after touchdown attempts. Suishi is batting 1.000 in this specific category. Going into more depth, Suisham has hit 34 of 38 field goals from 30 – 39 yards, for a success rate of 89%. Almost all of these misses came from beyond 34 yards, however.
Shaun Suisham has been automatic since arriving in Pittsburgh on his point after touchdown attempts and, for the most part, on his field goals in the range of where the point-after is going to be placed now. The change is going to bring about little, if any, change in the Steel City.
Fret not, Steelers fans, the season isn’t going to rest on the back of Suisham missing a point after touchdown. Unfortunately, I do not believe this to be the case for every NFL team.