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Eisenberg: Just Watch, Kicking Change Will Rear Its Head


The NFL's owners pushed the ball spot on extra points back from the 2-yardline earlier this week mostly because, well, the play had become about as exciting as a blank sheet of paper.

Kickers across the league missed exactly eight of 1,230 point-after-touchdown (PAT) attempts last season, a conversion rate of 99.3 percent. The Ravens' Justin Tucker continued his streak of having never missed one in the NFL. 

But kickers also missed just one of 35 field-goal attempts last season when the ball was spotted on the 15, where it will now reside on PAT attempts after the owners voted 30-2 to make a change (with Oakland and Washington voting nay.) According to Pro Football Focus, the accuracy rate on field-goal attempts of 30-35 yards from the center of the field was 97.6 percent over the past two seasons.

That kind of success rate has led some analysts and fans to react to the PAT change with a yawn and shrug, suggesting it will have minimal impact.

I understand their thinking. While pushing the spot back 13 yards surely will lead to more two-point attempts, how much really will change if the one-pointer is still such a sure thing? If kickers are just about as proficient from 33 yards as they are from 20, how often will coaches gamble?

But while I understand the thinking, I don't agree with the notion that this rule change will have minimal impact. You watch. It will rear its head in the fall. Games – plural – will be won and lost because the NFL did this.

A 33-yard PAT might be easy enough for most NFL kickers, but what if an offensive lineman is whistled for holding on the play, pushing the ball back 10 yards on a re-try? That's bound to happen, producing a 43-yard PAT attempt, hardly a sure thing. And if a flag is thrown for a personal foul during the kick, resulting in a 15-yard penalty, the PAT re-try would be a 48-yarder.

That's also bound to happen. We're going to see PAT attempts of almost 50 yards in 2015. And those aren't going to sail through the uprights at a 99 percent success rate.

I don't know about you, but if I'm coaching a team looking at a 48-yard extra-point attempt, I'm thinking hard about ditching the idea and going for two, since the ball spot for two-point attempts was not moved and will still be the 2-yardline.

Actually, it's not clear yet whether teams will be able to make such a switch in the middle of the PAT process. Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said this week that he is anxious to see the fine print of the rule change.

But regardless, that kind of thinking and decision-making is exactly what the league wants. The PAT is going to go from the most rote play in sports to one that stirs its share of debates and arguments. That's a change for the better, I think, adding more unpredictability to the brew of elements that makes pro football so popular.

In the Ravens' case, they have one of the league's best kickers, as Tucker's stats indicate. He has never missed a field-goal attempt from inside the 37 during his three years with the Ravens. He also has made 110 straight extra-point attempts. But the Ravens also have a head coach who is willing to gamble. Harbaugh went for it on fourth down more than 27 of the league's 31 other head coaches in 2014. And Marc Trestman, who coached the Chicago Bears last year but is now the Ravens' offensive coordinator, led the league in going for it.

I'm guessing the Ravens won't mind defying conventional thought and going for two, sometimes unexpectedly, as the NFL acclimates itself to the first significant change in its scoring apparatus in decades. I say bring it on.

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