Nine missed extra points in 30 games? Strategies are changing

Blair Walsh missed on this extra-point attempt on Sunday -- one of nine PAT tries that have failed this season. AP Photo/Jim Mone

Simple math told us the NFL's new PAT rule would increase the number of misses in 2015. Through the first 30 games of the regular season, however, its impact has exceeded expectations -- in more ways than one.

Week 2 won't conclude until Monday night, but place-kickers have either missed or had more extra points blocked (nine) than the entire 2014 season (eight). No games have been directly decided by a miss, but it's worth noting that one of the league's most conventional head coaches changed his post-touchdown strategy Sunday.

Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, who this summer downplayed the significance of 33-yard extra points, ordered two-point conversion attempts after each of his team's first two touchdowns in Sunday's 43-18 victory over the San Francisco 49ers. (The second came after a 49ers penalty in kick formation moved the line of scrimmage to the 1-yard line.)

NFL coaches almost always save the two-point play for the fourth quarter, and Tomlin's decision was so rare that Elias Sports Bureau researchers had to go back 17 years to find a game that included a successful two-point conversion in the first quarter. Even that instance was the result of a fake extra point by the Indianapolis Colts in 1998; the last traditional two-point attempt in the first quarter came via the Denver Broncos in 1997.

Reporters didn't ask Tomlin about the strategy Sunday. But when I spoke with him this summer about the new PAT rule, he said: "There will be instances where it is significant, and there will be many instances where it is insignificant."

Multiple factors made Sunday a significant instance for Tomlin. First, Steelers place-kicker Josh Scobee missed two field goal attempts in Week 1 at the New England Patriots. His shaky start to the season continued Sunday when he missed the extra point after the Steelers' third touchdown and then barely snuck one inside the upright after their fourth. Before this year, even slumping kickers were trusted to make extra points from the 2-yard line.

Second, Heinz Field historically has offered one of the most difficult playing surfaces to kick from. According to Elias research, place-kickers have converted 82.2 percent of attempts there since the start of the 2010 season -- a rate lower than 21 of the 35 NFL stadiums utilized over that period.

Third, the Steelers no doubt liked how they matched up against the 49ers on the goal line. Here's part of what quarterback Ben Roethlisberger told reporters:

"[We] put so much time and effort into those plays and if you're going to be successful doing them, why not do it? It’s nothing against Scobee. We believe that he's going to make every one. This has nothing to do with him. We have that much confidence in ourselves. We do it every single day [in practice]."

Regardless of the reason, NFL place-kickers are converting their extra points at a rate of 93.96 percent so far this season. Entering this season, many observers projected the extra-point rate to be 95 percent, the approximate rate of field goals between 30 and 35 yards in 2014.

Those actual and projected rates are pretty close, but keep in mind that these misses are coming in what is typically the best conditions for kicking during the season. As the weather turns and/or field conditions deteriorate, it's reasonable to expect the frequency of misses to increase.

So where will we end up? Already, at least one coach was spooked enough to do something that hasn't been done in nearly two decades -- we're not even out of September yet. Hold tight. We'll get through this thing together.