By Kenneth Arthur
The NFL is finally changing the worst play in the sport.
In a landslide 30-2 decision, owners approved a proposal to move the point after try back to the 15-yard line, meaning that teams will now need to make a 33-yard kick in order to get that once-automatic extra point. Teams converted 99.5% of their PATs in 2014, further dulling an already dull play, but now the decision to go for one or two will be about more than just the score. (Also, defenses will be allowed to return fumbles and interceptions on two-point coversion attempts.)
All rule changes feel like novelties up until the moment you forget things ever used to be different: Moving the goal posts back, adding overtime, coaching challenges and so many more.
In this case, kickers were getting too good -- four of the five best seasons in NFL history in terms of field goal accuracy have happened from 2011-2014, per ProFootballFocus's Nathan Jahnke -- and therefore the league had to answer with something that would increase difficulty, thereby adding excitement.
How does this new rule change how the game will be played next season and beyond?
1. Kickers that feature accuracy over leg power.
Steven Hauschka of the Seattle Seahawks has long been criticized for not having enough leg to warrant attempts outside of 50, but he's been deadly accurate otherwise. Hauschka is just 8-of-15 from 50+ over the last four years, but 38-of-39 from the 30-to-39 yard-line.
Greg "The Leg" Zuerlein of the St. Louis Rams has made 13 field goals from 50 or longer since entering the league three years ago, but is just 24-of-28 at the 30-39.
It means that Zuerlein will make the vast majority of his PATs -- but if the Rams are down by seven points and score a touchdown as time expires, Jeff Fisher will have to seriously consider whether it's smarter to go for two.
2. Savvy coaches that take advantage of the increased two-point attempts.
As pointed out by Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders, a two-point conversion carries a .99 expected point value, compared to just .91 on 33-yard field goals, based on data from 2013-2014. But that's a number that averages for the whole league.
Certain teams will have much bigger advantages at gaining two yards on any single play than others.
Despite what happened on the single biggest play of the 2014-15 season, the Seahawks may go for two a lot next year because they feature a run-option threat at quarterback and a devastating-to-tackle running back. In addition to Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch though, Pete Carroll also just added Jimmy Graham, a pretty good red zone threat. Last season, Lynch averaged 3.6 yards per carry when it was third down with 1-2 yards to go to for a first down conversion of touchdown. Graham caught seven touchdowns last year when the Saints were inside the opponents 10-yard line.
The Carolina Panthers' Ron Rivera, given the nickname "Riverboat Ron" because of his affinity for gambling on the field, undoubtedly got a boost with Tuesday's news, thanks to having the dual-threat QB and considerable experience with "going for it." In his career, when facing third-and-short or fourth-and-short, Cam Newton has attempted 90 passes and completed 53 of them for 50 first downs, and he's also run it 91 times and gained a first down on 69 of those attempts.
That's a 55% conversion rate on his passes and a 75% success rate on his rush attempts. With the likelihood of converting the kick going down, even slightly, the Panthers might not even attempt a PAT all season long.
Chip Kelly, Bill Belichick, Jeff Fisher and any rookie head coach hoping to make a splash also seem like good bets to potentially try and take advantage of the new rule. The Chicago Bears were 5-for-5 on two-point conversions last season under Marc Trestman (now the offensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens), while the Pittsburgh Steelers and Minnesota Vikings were both 4-for-4.
Conversely, the Eagles, Giants, Cowboys, Chargers, Bucs, 49ers, Raiders and Texans all went the whole season without attempting a two-pointer.
With PAT accuracy presumably going down next year, the question becomes: If you have Andrew Luck or Ben Roethlisberger or Aaron Rodgers, why would you ever kick a PAT unless it's a tie game? Over the course of a whole season, teams should score more if they have a good offense.
Who it hurts
1. Teams that don't have a good offense or quarterback.
So you're Rex Ryan and you're the new head coach of the Buffalo Bills and your team scores a touchdown and you want to make a splash, but you look over and see that your QB is … Matt Cassel. Or Jeff Tuel. Or EJ Manuel. It's not a good look.
For teams with little-to-no talent at quarterback, the poor just got poorer.
The Jaguars, Texans, Bears, Jets and Browns also seem to have an immediate problem with the new rule change. The Bucs and Titans will wait to find out how good their new franchise QBs are before deciding. A number of other teams, like the Raiders, Redskins, Rams and, again, Kelly's Eagles, are still sort of in a wait-and-see mode with their quarterbacks.
Not having a QB is definitely not a new problem in the NFL, but it is now a little bit more of a problem.
2. Justin Tucker, apparently.
"We play in the AFC North and we play almost every single game outside," Tucker said. "This is a tough division to play football in in general. It takes maybe a little bit more mental toughness than playing in a dome 10 games a year."
Apart from his apparent shots at dome kickers like Zuerlein and Blair Walsh of the Minnesota Vikings, Tucker otherwise he sees this as something that won't help kickers who play most of their season outdoors, and in tough conditions. It could make it potentially less likely that good kickers will want to play in Baltimore or Pittsburgh or other places where it may snow, or feature rain sleet, and wind.
The NFL is a cold and fickle place for kickers, so moving the PAT back only means there are more opportunities for kickers to find themselves back on the free agent market and without a job.
However, kickers have also gotten extremely good at kicking. Being accurate from 33 shouldn't be that much different than being accurate from 20. Yes, there will be a lot more misses and a lot more two-point attempts, and it will certainly make a difference in a few wins and losses next season. But teams will adjust. Kickers will adjust. Coaches will focus on how to get really good at making two-pointers, and also how to stop them, and at some point, whether it's in 10 years, or 15, or 30, another change will come again.
That's just the way it goes in the NFL.
Kenneth Arthur is a freelance writer currently covering the NFL at Rolling Stone and the Seattle Seahawks at FieldGulls.com. His work has also been found at Football Outsiders, SB Nation, and he thinks that Andrew Luck is "just okay."