Steelers: Definitely go for two


The Steelers really flexed their offensive might by frequently going for two last year after touchdowns. Big Ben wants to all the time. They absolutely should.

Ben Roethlisberger recently discussed how he would like the Steelers to go for a two point conversion after every touchdown if he could have it his way. Pundits have since weighed in. We don’t have to guess though. The Steelers should go for two every time.

Recently, Roethlisberger said during a press conference, “I think we should go for it every time. Why not? If we do it every day and if we’re 50%. I mean, if you don’t make the first and make the second one, there’s your 14 points.”

He went on to say Tomlin is also in the go or two camp. And he’s pretty much the only vote that matters. So we can anticipate the Steelers going for 2 often. This has brought on a number of discussions among pundits and sports journalists regarding whether or not this is a good decision.

The answer is absolutely, unequivocally, without a doubt yes. Tomlin is sometimes called a “player’s coach.” Whatever that means. But it implies strategy is not his strength. He also is known for following his guy when it comes to clock management. In this instance, Tomlin is outsmarting the rests of the NFL on a level that is statistically obvious.

It’s a matter of math. We have some evidence of how this strategy would play out based on last year and a bit from years prior as well. Under Tomlin the Steelers have done very well with 2 point conversions, much better than the league average.

Last year, the Steelers made 72% of their 2 point conversions. They went for a league high eleven, including the first first (not a typo) quarter 2 point attempt in nearly 20 years. This high percentage was not a fluke, under Tomlin the Steelers have made 75% of their 2 point conversions. Meanwhile, the league average is 48%.

Let’s also keep in mind Chris Boswell makes 96% of his PAT tries. So the point is a lock. Why risk it?

Why? Simple. Because .95(11)<.75(2(11))

Or, because 95% of 11 is less than 75% of 11 multiplied by 2. Let’s consider the 11 2 point conversions the Steelers tried last year. They made 8 of them. The rest is 16 points. If the Steelers had chosen to kick instead those times, even estimating generously, they would have only gotten 11 points. The Steelers scored 5 extra points.

But, again, it is a risk that in those instances you don’t make it, you may need it later. What if the Steelers have a game where they’re off? It is unlikely. First, because the Steelers offense is good enough to make it 75% of the time. But also, separate but related and for the same reason, it’s good enough to create a large enough sample size.

By that I mean, if the sample size is large enough it will consistently reflect the average. It’s the reason why presidential polls can ask totally different people their opinions and come up with essentially the same numbers across polls on any given date. If you flip a coin 4 times you may have heads 100% of the time, or 75% of the time. But if you keep flipping you’ll inevitably get closer and closer to 50%.

The Steelers are essentially betting that they will not only make 75% of their attempts but that they will score enough touchdowns to make up for any of that 25% that might occur. And it’s a great bet.

Take last year for example. The Steelers kicked 34 times and made 32. They went for 2 11 times and made 8. So on 45 attempts they came away with 48 points. If they had gone for two every time, they would have scored 67.5 points. They would have had 20 more points during the season. That’s 1.25 per game. That brings the Steelers scoring offense from 26.4 pts/gm to 27.65 pts/gm.

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This is not something every team can do. In fact, many teams can’t. The key to abusing the two point conversion is getting over 50% of two point conversions. Then you’re doing better than the 1 point per attempt best case scenario from kicking it. The NFL average is still 48%.

There is another factor. What prompted the Steelers to start this change was not their great offense but the NFL arbitrarily moving the extra point back even though no one asked them to. NFL teams missed 71 field goals last season. They only a little more than 94% of those.

So, in 100 attempts the NFL would average 94 points from kicks and 96 points from 2 point conversions. So the Steelers aren’t being bold. They’re being smart. This is something that most NFL teams should be doing more often and some should be doing nearly all the time. It just seems Tomlin is the only one who is acting on this.

Does all this mean that the Steelers should go for it every time?

Yes. Unless there’s a reason not to.

A couple years ago, and all years before it in memory, the approach to extra points was to kick it every time unless there was an overwhelming reason to go for two. If you were down by two points for example, or eight, with time running out. Or, an extreme case, if everyone who can kick gets injured.

The Steelers best approach is to go for two every time unless there is an overwhelming reason not to. If the scored is tied near the end of the game, the Steelers should kick it. f there are injuries that impact their goal line offense they should too. If perhaps they are facing a good enough defense, which there may not be one, to limit their attempts then they should kick it.

Furthermore, if the Steelers have made a 2 point conversion, they can start kicking it. This is often what they did last year. If they were up by 8 points, because they’re better at 2 point conversions, and because most teams are still too timid to utilize it even if they are, the Steelers are essentially up by two scores.

If they were to score again and make another 2 point conversion, or kick, they would still be up by either 15 or 16 points. That’s three scores either way.

Of course if the opposing team makes a conversion, or augments the score with field goals, it would make sense to start going for two again.

Needless to say, it’s a brave new world. The strategy of this new game is unfolding right before our eyes. When the NBA introduced the three point line many thought of it as a gimmick. The smart ones, whether they thought this or not, adapted to the new reality.

The Steelers aren’t just taking a risk, or being brash. This isn’t going with your gut. This is simply giving in to the statistical evidence that this is the best way to play the game now. The rest of the NFL is still John Madden riding in a bus despite all the evidence that it’s actually a worse way to travel while Tomlin and the Steelers are looking at the data and doing what makes sense.

In 20 years all teams will have gone for two in the first quarter. In 20 years, all teams will have gone for two in at least half of their games. It won’t be an act of desperation but another part of the chess game between coaches.

We’re on the ground level of the future. We’ll be the old hipsters claiming to have attended the first two point conversion. We’re Brad Pitt with the Oakland A’s.

Next: Steelers Training Camp Battles: Alejandro Villanueva vs Ryan Harris

The Steelers will not go for it every time. That’s a bit of an exaggeration. But it will be essentially the inverse of where things stand now. And it will continue to be successful until, not unlike the 3-4 defense, all other teams will copy the Steelers.