Balls or brains? We look at Shanahan's 2-point decision

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Sep 14, 2008



We've created a new honor this week, the Rocky Mountain Oysters award, which will go to Denver coach Mike Shanahan each time he puts his stones on the table and makes a ballsy decision.
 
This week he earns our illustrious new honor for choosing to go for a game-winning 2-point conversion in the final seconds of Denver's 39-38 victory over the Chargers Sunday.
 
Of course, maybe we're giving Shanahan a little too much credit for what should be an easy decision, but which coaches often shun for fear of being second-guessed if they fail.
 
Given the same situation – down by 1 after scoring a TD in the final seconds – most coaches elect to kick the extra point and go into overtime.
 
They're denying their team its best shot at victory.
 
Since the NFL instituted the college-style 2-point conversion back in 1994, teams have successfully converted 528 of 1,180 attempts (44.7%).
 
But even that figure is a little misleading. Back when the 2-point conversion was still something of a novelty, teams went for them far more often, but were usually less successful.
 
But over the last three seasons, teams have been far more prudent. They go for 2-pointers far less often but succeed more often. (The three fewest 2-point attempts have come over the last three seasons; while these three seasons have been among  the four most successful for offenses).
 
Heading into the 2008 season, NFL teams have converted 78 of 155 2-point attempts (50.3%) over the last three years.
 
Here's the annual breakdown.
 
NFL 2-Point Conversion Success
Year
Converted
 Attempted
Pct.
1994
59
116
0.508
1995
40
104
0.385
1996
44
92
0.478
1997
47
109
0.431
1998
41
105
0.390
1999
31
84
0.369
2000
35
85
0.412
2001
40
90
0.444
2002
47
98
0.480
2003
29
66
0.439
2004
37
76
0.487
2005
27
53
0.509
2006
21
41
0.512
2007
30
61
0.492
Total
528
1180
0.447
 
If we're strictly talking the odds, folks, than Shanahan didn't make a ballsy decision. He made the  smart decision. He made the decision that gave his team its best shot at victory.
 
After all, the odds of winning the overtime coin toss are 50-50.
 
And winning the toss doesn't even ensure the success that football fans think it does.
 
Since the NFL adopted overtime in 1974, through the end of the 2007 season, the team that won the toss has won 222 of 417 games (53.2%). Nine overtime games have ended in ties.
 
The team that won the toss went right downfield to score in just 123 of those 417 games (29.5%).
 
So even if you win the toss, you're hardly guaranteed success.
 
Facing the situation Shanahan faced Sunday, the bottom line is this: you can put a little faith in your offense and your coaching staff and try to punch it in from 2 yards away for a game-winning score. Your odds are better than 50-50, especially if you have a good offense and have prepared for the situation.
 
Or you can roll the dice and hope you win the toss and hope something breaks your way in overtime.
 
But those 2 yards seem like a much easier hill to climb, don't they?

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