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Could Less-Sure PATs Alter Strategy for NFL Teams?

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Copyright 2016 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

 

When the NFL moved the line of scrimmage for extra point attempts back to the 15-yard line in May 2015, making PAT kicks 33-yards, Atlanta kicker Matt Bryant said it was just part of the job and that he had to make sure he approached those tries like he did all his others.

"You got to concentrate even more," he said. "It's not really an extra point. It's a 33-yard field goal that counts for one point."

Two years in with the new distance, only eight kickers this season are perfect thus far on extra points. In 2015, the number was five, well down from 23 who connected on shorter PATs in 2014.

Only Baltimore's Justin Tucker and Dallas' Dan Bailey are perfect on extra points since last season. Three kickers missed at least five attempts last year. Cincinnati's Mike Nugent has already accomplished that feat 12 games into 2016.

Bryant had only missed four extra points in his previous 14 seasons, two of those coming in his rookie year (2002). He is eighth in NFL history in career field goal percentage (85.6 percent), but even he has faltered on the longer PAT, sending one off the left post in Philadelphia on Nov. 13.

The following Sunday, the league crashed. On Nov. 20, an NFL-record 12 extra point attempts failed. Ten teams had a missed PATs and two kickers -- Nugent and the Giants' Robbie Gould -- missed two attempts.

"There is no part of this game that the details cannot be measured," Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. "I think that's one of the cool parts about our game, where every facet, all three phases, are going to be a factor in winning and some cases in losing too."

Over the past two seasons, there has been a slight decline in PAT accuracy as the weather worsens, according to ESPN Stats&Information. Last season, kickers made 95.1 percent of extra points from Weeks 1 through 9, but dropped to 93.1 from Week 10 through the end of the regular season. This year, kickers dropped from 95.3 percent in the first half of the year to 84.5 percent in Weeks 10 and 11.

Quinn said that depending on how extreme the weather is, particularly the wind conditions, it might make him reconsider going for twopoint conversions. The Falcons, however, close out their season with two games in the Georgia Dome and road games at Los Angeles and at Charlotte, which factors against many weather-related two-point calls.

Atlanta's six two-point tries thus far are the third-most in the league, but all have come in traditional situations where going for two was the obvious mathematical call. The Falcons have not been like the Steelers, whose eight two-point tries have come in all types of scenarios, traditional or not.

Whether it is because of the new PAT distance or teams are just looking to take more risks, the twopoint attempt has become much more popular across the league. There have been 83 tries already this year after 94 coming in 2015. In the six years prior, the league saw more than 60 two-point attempts only once.

On Sunday against Kansas City, the Falcons found themselves in a situation that dictated going for a two-point attempt.

Leading 28-27 following a touchdown in the final minutes, Atlanta sought a three-point advantage and protection from a potentially winning Chiefs field goal. Instead, the Falcons wound up with a one-point deficit, falling victim to the first interception return on a twopoint try. Thanks to Chiefs safety Eric Berry, Kansas City won 29-28.

When the NFL owners voted 30-2 to move the extra-point attempts back, they also agreed that defenses could earn two points by returning blocked kicks or turnovers on two-point tries. But these plays have been rare.

Earlier this season, Denver was the beneficiary of a defensive two-point score when the Broncos blocked an extra-point attempt by New Orleans' Wil Lutz. The Denver return, like the Kansas City score, became the difference in the game, Broncos taking a late 25-23 lead instead of falling behind 24-23.

When Denver blocked Lutz's extra point, it was not someone getting a good jump off the line at the edge or getting strong penetration up the middle. Instead, Denver safety Justin Simmons leaped the long snapper to knock down the kick.

"It's a reaction to what the offensive line is doing, whether those guards are using their hands or if their hands are on the ground," Falcons special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong said of the play. "So if their hands are on the ground, you're seeing the linebacker jump. Then when you'll see one where it doesn't work, it's because the guard came up. You use it week-to-week based off of what's going on there."

Falcons' long snapper Josh Harris said because of the team's blocking technique, line-hurdling is not something he is concerned with. The bigger concern is since the attempts are farther back, the trajectory of the kick is different. By attempting a 33-yard kick instead of a 20-yarder, kickers can no longer loft the ball and avoid blocks as easily as before. Kickers must approach extra points more like field goals and drive the ball, Armstrong said.

"Each kick, that kick is the most important kick because it's the one you are dealing with at that time," Bryant said.

Not all kickers seem to be approaching extra points like field goals. All NFL kickers have combined to miss just one field goal try from 33 or 32 yards this year. But there have been 55 missed extra points. Last year there were 71 misses.

"I couldn't tell you why the guys are missing the kicks," Bryant said. "Some guys may be playing in some pretty bad conditions, some guys may be just missing the kicks."

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December 6, 2016
 
 
 

 

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