A Point to Make
The NFL is experimenting with longer extra points in an attempt to add excitement to the PAT. Ultimately, they’re going to get more injuries. A veteran kicker explains why 33 and one don’t add up. Plus, reader suggestions
By Jay Feely
If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? That old philosophical question could aptly be applied to the extra point for most of my 13-year career as an NFL placekicker. No one even thought about extra points except in the very rare instance that one was missed.
That all changed last January. In an interview with Rich Eisen, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell brought to light discussions the league was having behind closed doors about changing or eliminating the extra point. “The extra point is almost automatic,” Goodell said. “I believe we had five missed extra points this year out of 1,200 [actually 1,267]. So it’s a small fraction of the play and you want to add excitement with every play.”
With that, a national debate about the fate of the extra point was launched. I could point out that the quarterback spike is a boring play, as is the kneel down at the end of a game, but a better analogy might be the intentional walk in baseball. Certain plays, boring as they may be, are part of the fabric of the game and without a compelling reason should neither be abandoned nor changed. I have yet to hear that compelling reason when it comes to the extra point.
I can however, give you a compelling reason not to change the extra point: increased injuries.
Over the past few years there have been many changes to the game we love: how we tackle and block, how we practice during the season and during training camp, the kickoff reverting back to the 35-yard-line to encourage more touchbacks and reduce the number of returns. Every one of these changes was made to ensure the safety of players and reduce injuries. Changing the extra point runs counterintuitive to that philosophy. The extra point is virtually automatic. Because of that coaches rarely rush, preferring to protect against a two-point conversion with a more conservative defensive front. On field goals this isn’t the case. The ability to block a kick or get enough pressure to force a miss provides the carrot for more aggressive schemes and greater effort from players.
The Denver Broncos kicked 75 extra points during the 2013 regular season. If the extra point is lengthened (as was the case for the first two weeks of this preseason), that is 75 more plays on which there is an increased risk of injury. Field goals are a low-reward, high-risk endeavor for an offensive lineman. They are placed in precarious positions with their knees, backs, necks, groins and heads vulnerable as a result of the required technique. They are sitting ducks for the aggressive rushes of defenders who may want to take out their frustrations, and injuries are not uncommon. Ask any lineman and they will describe the difference between a PAT rush and a field-goal rush. They can recount the times they were hurt or very nearly injured blocking for field goals.
I asked two of our Cardinals linemen about it.
“There is no question the defense rushes harder on field goals compared to extra points,” left tackle Jared Veldheer said “That’s where I feel like my head and neck are most exposed.”
Tackle Max Starks told me: “I injured my neck blocking for a field goal and had fusion surgery. On extra points they may rush hard one out of every five times. But on a field goal they are coming hard on every play. The 33-yard extra point is really just another field goal for us.”
Are we really going to change a play because it’s “boring,” exposing offensive linemen to 75 more plays during which their knee may get blown out or they may suffer a concussion? Will fans of a playoff contender be “entertained’’ by a longer extra point when their left tackle is lost for the playoffs? Do we really want a team to miss the playoffs because a kicker misses a 33-yard extra point in cold, windy Chicago or Pittsburgh in Week 17? What do you think fans would rather have decide the outcome of a game: a missed 33-yard extra point, or the overtime that follows a made 20-yarder? These are the very real implications of a potential rule change that I find misguided.
In Week 1 of the preseason, two extra points were missed. Does this constitute a successful rule change? Since 1999 NFL kickers are 90% from the 33-yard line compared to 99% from the normal extra-point distance of 20 yards. Certainly there will be a few more missed extra points, but what does this rule change really accomplish?
It’s ironic that the proponents of this rule change are the same ones who, a few years ago, were advocating changes to overtime rules because they placed the fate of a team disproportionately on the foot of its kicker. When NFL kickers voiced our opposition to the extra point change—which we have uniformly—we were dismissed as not wanting to make our jobs harder. But we voiced our displeasure with the kickoff change in 2011 even though that change made our jobs easier.
In this case, it is more likely that those most intimate with a kicker’s job understand the intricacies of extra points and field goals and see the bigger picture. The risks involved for those blocking on longer attempts outweigh the benefit of a more challenging kick.