The NFL made two important officiating decisions heading into the pre-season. The first was to move extra point kicks back to the 20 yard line for the first two weeks of pre-season and the second was to be extra strict in enforcing penalties for pass interference on wide receivers.
Neither change has been viewed as a great success. The strict enforcement of penalties for touching wide receivers after five yards led to penalty laden games that stretched on for upwards of three hours. Thankfully, the signs are that the officials will ease back on the penalties when the regular season begins in order to keep the NFL product watchable. Things are not so clear cut with the extra point experiment however.
Two week trial
The other pre-season rule change was the experiment spotting the extra point on the 20-yard-line making the extra point the equivalent of a 38 yard field goal. The move was of course a compromise after the league voted down a proposal from the Patriots to spot the extra point at the 25-yard-line making it the equivalent of a 43 yard field goal.
Prior to the extra point test, logic suggested that it would not make too much of a difference. There is no real difference between kicking for an extra point and kicking a field goal. Statistics show that the vast majority of 38 yard field goals are made. Last season, NFL wide, just over 90% of field goals attempted between 30 and 39 yards were made and within the 30 to 39 yard range - 12 kickers made 100% of their attempts.
It made sense then the vast majority of extra points taken in the first two weeks would be made and this turned out to be the case. If anything kickers did slightly better than anticipated. 141 extra points were attempted in the first two weeks of the season and 133 were made for a completion rate of 94.3%. This compares to the 99.6% of extra points made in 2013 (in case you were wondering a total of five extra points were missed last season).
As it turns out then, very few kickers missed the extra point. The backlash against the experiment from within the NFL has been swift however. The Steelers Special Teams coach Danny Smith was vociferous in his criticism of the point and said that he “wouldn't mess with it” before going on to compare the extra point to the QB kneel suggesting bizarrely that if one is kept why not the other.
These criticisms have been echoed elsewhere. Arizona Cardinals kicker Jay Feely worries about the potential for "increased injuries" because defenses will blitz harder if extra points are more difficult. Whilst New York Giants Head Coach Tom Coughlin worried about the effect that poor weather could have on the extra point stating that he “didn't think much of it”.
Missing the point
The point of professional sport is to watch skilled athletes do things that stretch their abilities.
Currently the field goal spotted on the 2 yard line is irrelevant because, essentially all of them are made. It is a pointless play. There is no uncertainty in it and it isn't an interesting test of skill.
Steelers coach Danny Smith likely doesn't want the ball set further back because it introduces an extra metric on which his coaching can be measured. It makes his job harder. This of course though misses the point of sport and the NFL which is a test of skill.
As for Jay Feely. His comments undermine the entire point of PATs. If we want to completely reduce the risk of injuries then according to his logic we could remove lineman from PTAs entirely, after all apparently they aren't trying very hard. Or we could remove the risk of injuries from PTAs entirely by stopping to kick the extra point.
As a kicker though, Feely probably isn't lobbying for his job to be made extinct. Therefore we can only presume that, like Danny Smith, his criticism stems from an all too human desire to make his job as easy as possible.
The same goes for Coughlin's concerns about the weather. Should bad weather make an extra point kick taken further back more difficult then so what? All it is doing it making the test of skill harder and that surely is what everyone wants.
The only thing wrong with the NFL's experiment on moving the extra point back to the 20 yard line was that it wasn't permanent and that the distance wasn't longer.
Sport is meant to be a test of skill. If the NFL doesn't want kicking to be a part of that test then that is fine but lets not keep it in just because coaches and players find the current rules comfortable and easy.