The NFL Extra Point: They Moved It Back, But Should They Thin The Goal?
The NFL competition committee just recently adopted a change to how PATs and two-point conversions will be run in the upcoming year. For 2015, and only for 2015 at the moment (the committee will review the success of the changes at season's end), point-after attempts will be kicked from the 15 yard line, and two-point conversions will now be considered "live" plays, in which the defense will have the opportunity to score.
The change in the rule has been met with mixed reviews. Some people think that it is a good step in the process of making plays after touchdowns more exciting . Others, however, don't view this change as satisfying enough. Many have pointed out that they have simply changed something that had a 99% of success to something with more of a 92% chance of success. And while we will undoubtedly see more missed PATs next year, we won't see many. Any competent kicker should be able to drill a 33 yard field goal (PAT at the 15 yard line) with ease. Finally, there are some people that don't think any change should happen to the rule at all. Although they would agree that the play was boring, it was part of the game and not something that should be changed.
Feel free to form your own opinion, but I am of the opinion that more needs to be done. As I Redskins fan, I'm probably shooting myself in the foot with this wish, but the football fan in me would love to see higher stakes on the line. The current change may do just that, but there are other proposals that may make the play even better.
During the Pro Bowl, the NFL experimented with this play heavily. They moved the PAT back to the 17 yard line (making it a 35 yard attempt) and brought the goalposts in from 18 feet, 6 inches to 14 feet. The result was Pro Bowl kicker Adam Vinatieri — who had missed zero extra points and only one field goal during the regular season — missing two of four extra points and one of three field goals. There are a couple caveats. One, his Pro Bowl counterpart Cody Parkey went two for two on extra points. Two, Vinatieri claims that he got less than five full practice attempts on the thinned goalposts during warm-ups. However, even given the fact that they weren't given much time to warm up, they went a combined 66% on the thinner goalposts on the longer PATs. It suggests that a change along this line could produce some desired results.
Another place to look when thinking about making the goalposts smaller is the Arena Football League. In the AFL, the width of the goalposts is only 9 feet. The result is that there is a drastic difference in their kicking game when compared to that of the NFL. Their PATs are at the traditional two yard line, but the kicking percentage on PATs in the AFL with these very narrow goalposts is just 86%. In fact, only 2 of 14 teams make kicks above 90% of the time, with the maximum being 94%. On field goals, the change from the NFL is even more drastic. The AFL field goal percentage is an abysmal 38%. Because of the difficulty, field goal attempts are much rarer than in the NFL. No AFL attempted more than 19 field goals across their 18-game season in 2013.
This stark contrast between the AFL and the NFL is food for thought. Although it is very unlikely that the NFL would narrow the goalposts as much as they have in the AFL, the NFL has a template that they can use to study the effect that it would have on the field goal game and whether that is something that they would want to inflict upon the game of football. Whatever they decide, hopefully, it will make the game more exciting without alienating kickers and deviating too far from football's history.