There was much discussion prior to, and early in, the 2015 NFL season regarding the effect of longer extra points. With the distance going from 19 to 33 yards, there were a number of unsubstantiated opinions floating around. Some analysts suggested that better-than-expected accuracy in the early season would fade due to bad weather. Others claimed that the longer extra points had gotten inside the heads of kickers, to the point where early season struggles on field goals somehow caused by increased misses on extra points. Chuck Zodda has been tracking this all season and has the complete data set.
NFL kickers made 1145 of 1217 extra points from the longer distance, good for 94.1%. This is 1.4% higher than the 92.7% I predicted before the season started, and below the mid-95% range I predicted after Week 8 ‒ suggesting that like most things in life, the end result tends to be in the middle of expectations rather than at the extremes.
One statistical oddity that showed up over the second half of the NFL season was that kickers showed slight improvement on field goals from 30-39 yards, going from 92.9% in Weeks 1-8 to 93.1% in Weeks 9-17, while at the same time seeing accuracy on extra points drop from 94.6% in Weeks 1-8 to 93.6% in Weeks 9-17. However, both of these changes fall within the expected margin of error, suggesting that these fluctuations are merely due to chance, and most likely not the result of any true change in kickers’ abilities.
Among kickers with at least one attempt per team game, just five kickers notched a perfect season on extra points – Stephen Gostkowski (52-52), Mason Crosby (36-36), Justin Tucker (29-29), Matt Bryant (26-26), and Dan Bailey (24-24). Crosby is the most-unexpected member of this cohort, having struggled with accuracy throughout his career despite a big leg.
On the other side of the coin, several kickers struggled to adjust to the new distance. Of kickers attempting at least one kick per team game, Blair Walsh (33-37, 89.2%), Josh Lambo (28-32, 87.5%), Dan Carpenter (34-40, 85%), and Jason Myers (32-39, 82.1%) converted under 90% of their extra point attempts. There is no one factor that explains the struggles for these kickers, as they operate in different climates, with different levels of experience, and on different playing surfaces, suggesting they each suffer from individual issues unique to their approach and technique on extra points.
There was a noticeable increase in two-point conversion attempts, with 93 tries in 2015 compared to 58 in 2014. This represents a 60% jump, and can be directly attributed to the longer extra point attempt – both because coaches do not want to attempt extra points in certain situations, as well as needing to go for two after earlier misses.
In lengthening the extra point, the NFL has changed how fans view the kicking game. What was once a throwaway event where you could head to the bathrooms and concession stands, has become another important tactical and strategic coaching decision. Rather than devaluing kickers, the longer extra point has instead placed an increased emphasis on those with greater accuracy, as opposed to simply having a big leg to blast attempts from 50+ yards.
It has made the game more exciting without compromising the integrity of the game, and as such, stands as one of the best rule changes the NFL has made in recent years.
Follow Chuck on Twitter @ITP_ChuckZ.