Earlier this week, the NFL announced new rules that I believe will dramatically change post-touchdown strategy. Those rule changes are:
- Extra points are being moved back from the 2-yard line to the 15-yard line.
- Opposing defenses can score 2 points if they block and/or return an extra point or 2-point try. Previously, a failed conversion would immediately become a dead ball and no scoring was allowable.
Reaction from talk radio hosts and sports media has been primarily centered on the extra point’s changed rate of success. Whereas before it clocked in at 99.1% (yawn), the new distance will reduce that number to somewhere in the 93-95% range. This will be enough to make the try more interesting and we’ll likely see at least one late game failure cost a team dearly.
What’s gone unnoticed, however, is that these rule changes will generate a new strategy that we’ve never seen in football before: the declined extra point. In the 2015-16 season, we’ll see a team score a touchdown late in the game and voluntarily elect to take a knee rather than attempt an extra point or two-point conversion — and we’ll see it fairly often!
Imagine this scenario: it’s opening day and the Ravens are playing the Broncos. The Broncos are up 27-24 late but are driving, trying to score a game-clinching touchdown, when they punch it in with 0:45 left on the clock. The score is now 33-24 and the Broncos have to decide what to do:
- They can go for the extra point to take a 10-point lead. Up until now, this is clearly how every team handled the situation.
- They can go for the 2-point conversion to take an 11-point lead. This makes no sense but could be employed by a very aggressive team confident they can convert the 2 points easily or, perhaps, have an injured kicker.
- They can line up for the 2-point conversion and simply take a knee, thereby declining any extra point(s). This is what they should do now.
Shocking, but the reasoning is sound and the declined extra point should quickly become the new standard. The reasoning behind it is that the Broncos, late, have accrued this 9-point lead over the Ravens which makes it a two-score game. (The Ravens would need at least a touchdown and field goal to win.) If the Broncos attempt the extra point and it’s blocked and returned for 2 points, the lead is cut to 7 points and the Ravens will be getting the ball in a one-score game!
Has your mind changed after imagining that scenario? It’s not far fetched either. While we haven’t seen a lot of blocked extra points due to the high trajectory that kickers are trained to aim for (the ball doesn’t need to go far horizontally), adding 13 yards to the length of the kicks will encourage a slightly lower trajectory and blocked kicks will become more likely. Under what circumstance should a head coach risk turning a two-score game into a one-score game by going for that 10th point? I’m no odds-maker, but the safer bet is clearly to sit on the 9 points rather than go for the 10 with little time on the clock.
A minor alternative could be to instead go for the 2-point conversion with a very safe run play. This requires trusting that the running back does not fumble the ball and the defense will certainly be trying to tear it away! I believe some coaches will go for this (inferior) approach, but hopefully they’re aware of the famous Miracle at the Meadowlands before they take such an unnecessary risk.
The declined extra point opportunity will come about when a team extends their lead, late, to 1, 2, 9, and 10 points. We’ll only see it in very late game situations where ensuring the other team must complete an extra drive is imperative.
For the 1 and 2 point situations, the reasoning is obvious: taking that lead late can be nullified by a botched try. Declined extra points here would only occur when there’s literally just a few seconds on the clock — if that! Imagine a scenario where a team scores a “game-winning” touchdown on the last play of regulation only to lose while trying for the extra point. Of course the declined extra point would go into effect here.
Keep an eye out for it. Nobody else is talking about it, but it’s coming.