The NFL moved back the line of scrimmage on extra points at the start of the 2015 season in order to increase the number of teams willing to go for two-point conversions. Since the start of the 2015 season, the Pittsburgh Steelers have attempted 14 two-point conversions, 100% more than the 4 teams tied for second- the Titans, Raiders, Browns and Packers with 7 attempts.
The Patriots know they have to be ready.
“We’ve got to prepare for it [the two-point conversion] and certainly teams like Pittsburgh that’s aggressive with that situation and they want to try to get those extra opportunities to score,” Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said on Tuesday. “We have to obviously plan and prepare for it...It’s a much bigger part of the game now that we have to be ready for. I would say in the past that it was more of a situational type of thing that might come up based on the score more towards the end of the game, whereas now it’s actually happening at the start of the game.”
A further analysis shows that a mere 4 of the Titans, Raiders, Browns, and Packers combined two-point attempts have come in the first three quarters of the game and they are usually attempts to close a two-point deficit, or establish a three- or seven-point lead.
A whopping nine of the Steelers two-point conversions have come in the first half, including attempts in two of the past three weeks, and an additional three have come in the third quarter. The Steelers go for two far earlier and far more openly than any other team in the league and the goal is to put pressure on the opposing team and force them to consider going for two.
The Steelers have converted 10 of their 14 attempts, meaning they’ve scored 3 more points than the average team that decides to just take the extra point attempt. All 14 of the Steelers conversion attempts have been passing plays and that’s because Pittsburgh has more ability to draw up unique schemes in the passing game, with targets spread to all wide receivers, tight ends, and running backs.
“Overall I think there are generally two philosophies on the two-point play,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said on Tuesday. “One philosophy would be to run a red area play that you would run with that field position anyways just as if it was fourth-and-goal on the two [yard line], if you will.
“The other philosophy was to run a play that the defense had never seen before; unusual formations, some type of play, you know, the play that they couldn’t possibly be working on because only – and I’d say the Steelers are a team that used to like to do that especially under Coach [Bill] Cowher. They were very successful in doing that in some of their critical situations; put Hines Ward somewhere or run a reverse and throw off of it or things like that. And there wasn’t any downside to doing that.”
Belichick notes that the Steelers are unique in their play calling as most teams use their red zone packages on two-point attempts. And in fairness to Pittsburgh, it’s probably for the best. The Steelers have gone 0 for 4 on their 3rd- or 4th-and-2 situations dating back over the past five seasons.
The loss of QB Ben Roethlisberger could give the Steelers second thoughts on attempting two-point conversions because he clearly presents much better odds of success than back-up QB Landry Jones, but I have two hesitations.
First, Jones actually attempted a two-point conversion in 2015 against the Cardinals. It was early in the third quarter and the Steelers were up 12-10 after the touchdown; an extra point would have been a sufficient 3-point lead, but Pittsburgh wanted to go up 4 points to force Arizona to lead a touchdown drive.
Second, I could see the Steelers pulling out all the stops against the Patriots because they’ll have nothing to lose this week with Roethlisberger on the sideline. It’s a David vs Goliath game and Pittsburgh can’t afford to play conservative football.
We’ll have to wait and see how the Steelers approach the post-touchdown scenario, but you can be certain that Belichick and Patricia will have the defense prepared for any and all two-point conversions.