Two point conversions are a rare play even with the longer extra point attempts, but when they are run, who are the most successful teams at converting them? Dave Archibald looks at a clever two point conversion by the Saints before analyzing broader trends of two point conversions in the NFL.
New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton long ago gained a reputation for being one of the NFL’s premier play-callers, and he impressed me with a nifty, two-point conversion play in the Saints’ 45-32 loss to the Atlanta Falcons in Week 3. I opined on Twitter:
I think if I needed one NFL coach (HC or OC) to draw up a two-point conversion with my life riding on it, I'd pick @SeanPayton
— Dave Archibald (@davearchie) September 27, 2016
The play in question was a simple toss left to running back Mark Ingram, but a bit of clever misdirection made it work:
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The Saints line up on the left hash mark with quarterback Drew Brees under center, and Ingram (#23) behind Brees. Two wide receivers and a tight end line up to the left, with Tommylee Lewis (#87) wide, Brandon Coleman (#16) in the slot, and Coby Fleener (#82) in tight. Lewis goes in motion and darts past Brees at the snap as if the Saints are running a jet sweep. Falcons cornerback Robert Alford (#23) follows him, and other defenders seem to be drawn in by the motion as well, notably defensive end Adrian Clayborn (#99). The motion not only distracts the defense, it also fundamentally resets the shape of the offensive and defensive formations just before the snap.
The wide side of the field is now vacant, and Atlanta has to reset their run force responsibilities on the fly. Ingram takes a pitch from Brees and sprints inside the pylon, converting the attempt easily. This close to the goal line, defenses have to respect the run and attack the offense’s first movement and misdirection can serve as a highly potent weapon.
Payton’s creative play designs haven’t necessarily led to great success for New Orleans in converting two-point plays, however. Since he arrived in The Big Easy in 2006, the Saints have converted 56% of tries, only a little above the 49% average figure for the league as a whole during that length of time:
Data from pro-football-reference.com. Updated through Week 3 of 2016.
There are some curious results here. The Chicago Bears, rarely an offensive juggernaut, have the best two-point conversion rate at 76%. The Green Bay Packers (48%) rate right around league average (49%) despite the presence of MVP quarterbacks Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers. The Seattle Seahawks have passed 17 times and run only twice, a surprising statistic for the run-heavy ‘Hawks that might bring back bad memories of the end of Super Bowl XLIX for Seattle fans. The Oakland Raiders have an even more lopsided ratio, with zero run attempts on two-point conversions versus 15 pass attempts. League-wide, teams only run the ball on two-point conversions 27% of the time, even though run tries have a better success rate (56%) than pass attempts (47%).
None of these are large sample sizes, however. The Steelers are the most two-point happy team in the league, and they’ve attempted only 29 conversions in a decade-plus. We can reinforce how puny the sample is by looking at how teams do on 3rd- or 4th-and-goal from the 2-yard-line. In theory, teams that are good at two-point conversions should also excel in this situation, as they are also do-or-die plays from two yards out. In actual fact, there appears to be very little correlation (r = -0.4) between success in this situation and in two point conversions:
Chicago, our most successful team at converting two-point attempts, is among the worst at converting touchdowns from the two yard line. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, one of the worst at two-pointers, are among the best at punching the ball in from the two on timed downs. The Dallas Cowboys convert most consistently in both situations, but fail to crack a 60% conversion rate in either.
Ultimately, two-point conversion rate is a statistical curiosity, not a metric to be taken seriously. With the data ultimately inconclusive, I’m going to stick with Sean Payton if I need two points to save my life.