Go for It, Coach!: Two-Point Conversions by the Numbers

Jared RebackAnalyst ISeptember 23, 2007

IconFor the last 10 years in the NFL, and forever in the NCAA, the two-point conversion has been an important part of the game.

Coaches now have sheets dictating when to kick and when to go for two—but I wonder if there's any rom for debate.

Imagine this scenario:

Dallas scores with 3:00 left in the game to go up 34-27 on the Redskins.  The chart says kick the extra point to go up eight and make the other team get the two-pointer.

However, wouldn't it be more prudent to go for the pair?

NFL teams have been successful on about 40 percent of two-point tries in the last decade.  Let's see how the numbers play out.

Assuming a 97-98 percent success rate on PATs, Dallas takes an eight-point lead.  If Washington scores a TD on the ensuing drive, they have to go for two—and with only a 40 percent success rate, Dallas looks to be in good shape. Even if Washington gets the two, Dallas has a chance to win in regulation or take the game in overtime.

Sounds good enough, but let's look at what happens if Dallas goes for the two.

If Dallas goes for two and misses, Washington can score, kick, and tie it—the same scenario that happens 40 percent of the time if Dallas kicks it and Washington has to try for two.

If Dallas goes for two and makes it, on the other hand, the game is essentially over. 40 percent of the time, in other words, Dallas gets an immediate win by going for two.

Add to that the fact that it's not a certainty that Washington will score a TD, and going for two suddenly looks like a viable option.

Is the risk worth it?  Maybe, maybe not.

I'd at least like to find a coach who'd be willing to try it.

To borrow an argument from ESPN.com's Gregg Easterbrook, coaches are unlikely to adopt this strategy because they're sure to catch flak if it fails. If Dallas kicks and Washington comes back to win, the coaches can at least pin the blame on the defense.

There are many situations in which coaches have gone for two and the victory when down one, knowing that a certain loss will be the outcome 60 percent of the time.  Why would it be so unreasonable for a coach to do the same thing here, when a loss isn't even guaranteed?

There might not be a simple answer, but the fact that such a strategy isn't even considered tells me that many coaches don't play to win—they play not to lose.

And as one NFL coach would say, "You play to win the game."