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Ben Roethlisberger Embraces the NFL's Rule Change, Insists on More 2-Point Conversions

Big Ben and the Steelers attempted more 2-point conversions than anyone else in the NFL last season. Will that trend continue in 2016?

To PAT or not to PAT? That is the question facing NFL teams in 2016.

For Pittsburgh Steelers' quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, the answer is simple: The more 2-point conversions Pittsburgh attempts, the better.

"I think we should go for it every time," Roethlisberger told reporters. "Why not? If we do it every day and we're 50%, if you don't make the first one and make the second one, there's your 14 points. So why not give it a shot?"

https://twitter.com/steelers/status/742803585793040384

This quote should come as no surprise to fans. Last season, the high-powered Steelers offense led the league in 2-point attempts (11), and had a very impressive conversion rate of 72.7% (ranked No. 1 amongst teams with >1 attempts). Pittsburgh, however, is not alone. Calls for more 2-point attempts can be heard from across the country.

Following Roethlisberger's comments, Packers head coach Mike McCarthy and Saints QB Drew Brees have added their names to the growing list of NFL 2-point enthusiasts. Both McCarthy and Brees have publicly endorsed Big Ben's sentiment, and claimed that their respective teams might follow suit. So why the sudden change in philosophy?

Without a doubt, the biggest catalyst has been last year's major rule change that moved the extra point line back to the 15 yard line. To many fans, this change seemed to completely change the NFL's post touchdown dynamic. The statistics back this perception up.

First, take a look at the average NFL team's extra point makes/attempts from 2009-14 compared to 2015:

PAT MAKES/ATTEMPTS (league average)

SEASON

XPM

XPA

PCT

2009

36.406

37.031

98.409

2010

37.594

37.937

98.944

2011

37.5

37.719

99.478

2012

38.406

38.594

99.528

2013

39.438

39.594

99.622

2014

38.189

38.438

99.397

09-14 MEAN

37.922

38.219

99.229

2015

35.813

38.031

93.975

Now, compare the same time period, but with 2-point conversion data instead:

2-PT CONVERSION MAKES/ATTEMPTS (league average)

SEASON

2PTM

2PTA

PCT

2009

0.75

1.875

40.0%

2010

0.813

1.656

49.057%

2011

0.719

1.563

46.0%

2012

0.906

1.813

50.0%

2013

1.03

2.156

47.826%

2014

0.875

1.844

47.458%

09-14 MEAN

0.849

1.818

46.724%

2015

1.406

2.938

47.872%

The first thing that jumps out when examining the data is the dip in extra point conversion rate. From 2009-14, this remained steady at around 99%. About as close to a sure thing as you can get in sports. The extra PAT yardage has caused this number to go way down to 93.975%. That percentage, compared with the 2-point conversion rate of 47.872%, means that it is now mathematically more beneficial for a team to take the gamble for two after scoring a TD.

Think about it this way: If a team exclusively kicks PATs after they score touchdowns (converting at the league average rate) they would score 93.975 points per every 100 attempts. On the flip side, a team that only attempts 2-point conversions and hits at the league average would score 95.744 points per 100 attempts. It doesn't take a mathematician to understand that 95.744 > 93.975. 

So why are Big Ben, McCarthy and Brees the minority? Why hasn't the entire league embraced the 2-point revolution?

Primarily, tradition tends to kill off innovation. Football coaches are wired to kick a PAT after every touchdown, and a small piece of data isn't very likely to sway them. Additionally, a coach is unlikely to risk their job and reputation for such a drastic change to the traditional NFL game plan. And finally, while last year's data shows going for two leads to more points, there is no evidence that it leads to more wins.

The NFL's "final four" teams of the 2015 season (the BroncosPanthersPatriots and Cardinals) combined for ONE 2-point conversion attempt over the span of the entire season. These teams managed to combine for a 52-12 regular season record while successfully converting ZERO attempts. 

It's very easy for teams with pass-happy quarterbacks like Roethlisberger and Brees to embrace the new rules and go for two more often than not. Football, however, isn't simply a competition to see who can score more points, it's far more nuanced than that. Coaches Bill Belichick will continue to stick to their guns, and why not? It's worked out just fine so far.


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