The NFL has been tinkering with the PAT in hopes of making it a more difficult and therefore entertaining play for spectators.
Today, at their annual spring meeting in San Francisco, the NFL owners voted 30-2 to move back the extra point line of scrimmage from the 2-yard line to the 15-yard line, making attempts the equivalent of a 33-yard field goal.
NFL owners decided to move those conversion kicks 13 yards farther back. Last season kickers successfully converted all but eight of their 1,230 attempts. And six of the misses were blocked kicks.
So the new kicking spot becomes the 23-yard line, which constitutes a 33-yard field goal. There were 41 field-goal tries of 33 yards last season and NFL kickers converted 39 of them. That’s still a 95 percent conversion rate, which is near automatic.
Under the traditional rule, the extra-point kick afforded the millions of fans watching at home on television the opportunity to sprint to the bathroom or refrigerator and not miss any “real” action. There’s zero drama in a short kick by the likes of Stephen Gostkowski, Adam Vinatieri or Dan Bailey.
“Well, obviously it makes the extra point that much more challenging,” Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said at the team’s Home Run Derby and benefiting The Salvation Army. “I think the percentage to make a PAT the way it is is north of 98 percent, and I think it’s about 93 percent to kick a field goal that’s 33 yards. So there’s a little bit of a difference there obviously.”
A longer extra point could tempt teams to try more two-point conversions, which will continue to be spotted at the 2-yard line. There’s one new wrinkle, however: the owners also voted that the defense can now return a blocked kick or a fumbled/intercepted two-point conversion attempt for two points. Previously the ball was ruled dead.
“I’m glad they did the thing where the defense can return it and get two points. I think that’s a good rule, and I’m glad they kept it at the 2-yard line,” Garrett said.
Since 2011, coach Jason Garrett’s Cowboys have converted 4 of 7 two-point tries, but they did not have such a conversion attempt in 2014.
NFL Vice President of Officiating Dean Blandino said teams could change their attempt decision if a penalty occurs. For instance, if a team chooses to go for two points and is called for an offensive penalty, they could then decide to kick a 1-point try.
From the Dallas Cowboys perspective, kicker Dan Bailey was a perfect 179-for-179 on extra points. On field goal attempts between 30 and 39 yards – Bailey’s a career 38-for-40. Bailey is the most accurate kicker in NFL history at 89.8 percent and has made every point-after attempt in his career
Kicker Dan Bailey said earlier this season, “I understand where they’re coming from obviously from an entertainment standpoint, I guess, or the lack thereof. It’s not very entertaining, extra points.”
Jason Garrett understands the rationale. That doesn’t mean you can characterize him as an agent for change.
“I’m a traditionalist,’’ Garrett said in March. “I don’t know that we should do much with the extra point. It seems like there’s an emphasis on that, so we’ll continue to see different options presented to us. “I think the game is pretty good. I think the PAT has been almost 100 percent for a long, long time. But I understand the idea that some people view it as a dead play. I get that. So maybe it’s a small tweak that can make it more interesting, make it less of a dead play without really disrupting the tradition of the game. I just hope they don’t change it too dramatically.”
As far as pushing the line of scrimmage back to make the PAT more problematic, how far would you have to push it back to get the desired result?
“I think in 1970, it was 73 percent for a 40-yard field goal on in, now it’s 93 percent,’’ Garrett said. “That’s a significant difference.
While Bailey is virtually automatic from any distance, it will be interesting to see if Garrett’s strategy changes with the two-point conversion. He has one of the best tight red-zone targets in Dez Bryant and the best offensive line in football.