There was a lot of sound and fury last night about a combination of decisions that ultimately had no impact on the outcome. I’m talking, of course, of the Pat Shurmur making the call of going for two after scoring to make it an 8 point game in the fourth quarter, rather than kicking the extra point.
But if you are unaware of why it is a good strategy, and why we’ve suddenly seen two coaches go for the move in 2018, there’s an explainer here on the merits of the strategy. Doug Pederson did it against the Vikings in Week 5, but you might have missed it because it wasn’t a primetime game and the two-point play was successful, thus short-circuiting any righteous uproar. The Eagles also lost that game, by 2 points, because they gave up another field goal, but in their case could have won if they had not. In the Giants case, they ultimately would have tied it, but for also giving up a field goal late.
It’s not even what I would consider advanced math. It’s fifth grade math if you have a cursory experience with simple fractions. If I told a fifth grader to solve the problem of which strategy was better–a fifth grader with no pre-conceived notion of what the right way is–they could get the answer.
But the biggest issue in dealing with the practicalities of the “Down by 14, score, then go for two” idea is that (1) it rarely comes up, (2) your chances of winning, regardless of your strategy, are still very small because you usually have to keep the other team from scoring at all (and this is true regardless of whether you go for 1 or 2), and (3) you are going to catch lots of grief from talking heads who cannot fathom why anyone would possibly go for 2.
So frankly, it may not be worth the headache to suffer fools to gain a few percentages of win probability, on something that might work once every few years.
But I’m here to offer advice on how to deal with educating and shutting down a doubting media member looking to set up their game story. The main problem with coaches when they try to justify such things is they fall back on clichés and stock phrases. “We felt good about our two point play.” Yeah, I assume every coach does.
It’s also not feasible to go completely into math in a press conference setting, nor would I advise it. I would advise talking about “facts,” rather than “math.” After all, what we are talking about is using facts of what happen in NFL games, and using information to educate and inform future decisions, just as you would with any business.
With that said, here’s how I would advise answering when you do something correctly–have a good process–but the outcome does not work. And I never use the word “math” once.
Q: Why would you take the risk and go for two there, when you can just kick the extra point?
A: Well, because it makes a lot of sense, and I think you will see other teams start to do it. We need to have a lot of things happen to come from down 14 in the 4th quarter to still win a game. We need to get stops. We need to score two touchdowns. And if we just kick extra points and make them–(pause for effect)–you did see what just happened with Justin Tucker and Baltimore, right?– then we still have to have even more things go our way in overtime, where it is a coin flip.
Think of it like getting two bites at apples. If you get a good apple on your first bite, you are now down by 6, and an extra point wins the game, and you don’t even have to take another bite. Well, about half the time, you are going to be in that position to win outright with a stop.
If you don’t get a good apple, then it’s still not over, you get another bite at it. That’s what happened here with us, where we converted that second one, and we would have been tied if their kicker–credit to him for coming in just this week because of an injury–didn’t nail a 56-yarder. The only scenario where you are worse off is if you miss both, but you are more likely to nail one when you get two chances at it, than fail both times. That’s elementary school stuff, so I know you sportswriters can handle it.
And look, the facts show that we can convert two-pointers at about 50%. We are now 3 of 5 for the year, so we are a little above that now. You think you can predict which offenses are going to make them and miss them before it happens? I think you are wrong. You know how frequently the top offenses have converted two-pointers in recent years? 52% of the time. You know how frequently the bottom offenses in the league have converted? 53% of the time. What about teams that have missed their first two attempts of the year, they clearly have some flaws right? They’ve converted 51% the rest of the year. The teams that made their first two and know what they are doing? 50%.
If you have a better number for thinking about how to make this decision, because you think this scenario is different, well, produce it. Otherwise, I think you’re acting in bad faith or just because that’s how it’s done. Well, we aren’t operating on “just because” with this team.
Take kicks, for example. Extra points have been moved back, they aren’t automatic anymore. You’ve all been watching the NFL this year, right? Misses happen. You have to consider the realistic possibilities, based on what tends to happen in NFL games. If you just pretend missed kicks don’t happen, if you don’t learn from actual results and let it inform you, you make bad decisions.
Does this mean I don’t have faith in our kicker? Absolutely not, and that’s garbage thinking. Does not going for it on 4th and 10 on your own side of field mean you don’t have faith in your quarterback? That’s basically the same argument and I reject it. You have a team here and you have to make the right decision for the team to win a game. Sometimes that means trying something like a two-pointer instead of kicking an extra point.
And if you want to suggest that somehow the players cannot handle it, that going for two there cost us momentum because then our defense gave up points, I can tell you that idea doesn’t exist in our locker room. We talk to the players about these situations and what we might do. We prepare them that we are going to be aggressive. If you aren’t mentally strong enough to go out and do your job because of a decision on a conversion attempt, then you are probably not long for this league.
Any other questions?