By the numbers: When NFL teams go for two ...
When the NFL moved its extra points out from 20 yards to 33 last year, kicking from the 15-yard line was intended to make the PAT less of a given. It certainly accomplished this -- after missing eight extra points in 2014, NFL kickers combined to miss 71.
What was a 99.3 percent success rate in 2014 dropped to 94.2 percent from the longer distance. It added drama where there was nearly none, and to some extent, made NFL coaches ponder the merits of going for two more than even before.
NFL teams went for two 93 times in 2015 -- that's 60 percent more than the year before, when there were only 58 attempts.
There are so many interesting ways to dissect the two-point conversion -- if extra points are successful 94 percent of the time, you'd have to be good enough to convert going for two better than 47 percent for it to generate more scoring.
The NFL as a whole did that -- officially, teams went 45-for-93, which works to 48.3 percent. It's important to note, however, that four of those attempts came after touchdowns on the final play of regulation, so the game was over and the conversion involved a QB taking a knee. A fifth attempt came off a botched snap on a kick. So when the conversion was actually attempted, teams went 45-for-88, or 51.1 percent.
And yet teams went for two just 7 percent of the time -- 1,217 extra points vs. 93 two-point attempts. Despite the added risk involved in kicking at PAT, coaches largely stuck to the norm -- going for two only late in games, when the scoreboard specifically mandated it.
Of 93 two-point attempts, 80 came in the second half, and 64 in the fourth quarter. Of the NFL's 13 two-point attempts before halftime, seven came from the Steelers (more on that later), more than the other 31 teams combined.
There's a "when to go for two" cheat card -- if NFL coaches carried wallets on the sidelines, they'd keep one in there. These are obvious scenarios for late in a game: if you score a touchdown and are down two, of course you go for two to tie the game -- teams went just 3-for-12 going for two in that situation last season.
More than half of the two-point attempts came in those obvious scoreboard scenarios -- down 2, up 1 (where converting puts you up a field goal), down 5 (to get within a field goal), up 5, up 12 and down 10 (to get within a single score). Another 21 attempts came from a team down by more two touchdowns, where going for two can lower the number of scores needed to tie the game.
The Steelers, with a wobbly kicking situation early last year and a proven quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger, were an outlier as the NFL's only team to ambitiously go for it regardless of score. They went for two 11 times and converted eight -- despite having a solid back in Le'Veon Bell, they opted for passes on all 11, with Roethlisberger converting to seven different targets.
Pittsburgh went for two in nearly any situation -- against the 49ers, they did on their first two touchdowns, pulling out to a 16-3 lead. Up two -- traditionally a one-point scenario -- they went for two four times, converting three of them.
NFL teams vastly prefer throwing when they go for two -- 70 of the 93 attempts involved passing, though the success rate is largely the same. NFL teams converted 50 percent when passing for two, and 52.6 percent when running.
We'll come back later with more two-point conversion and how the success and play-calling differs from teams taking regular offensive plays from the 2.