Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

09 Jul 2018

Two-Point Study at Riley-Kolste Football

Noah Riley, a student-athlete at Lewis & Clark College in Portland (and nephew of former Oregon State Beavers/Nebraska Cornhuskers/San Diego Chargers head coach Mike Riley) went back and charted every two-point conversion in the NFL in the last seven years to find out what works best (bootlegs, pick plays, and most runs) and what doesn't (fade routes). He broke things down in great detail by play design and route combination, and included video samples of each play type. It's phenomenally comprehensive stuff that is both enlightening and educational.

Posted by: Vincent Verhei on 09 Jul 2018

15 comments, Last at 11 Jul 2018, 2:14pm by Will Allen


by LionInAZ :: Mon, 07/09/2018 - 3:48pm

Nice study. The author goes a little crazy breaking down play categories too much, but the breakdown into 10 general types of pass/run plays is informative. In a passing league, running the ball at the goal line is still the better option.

by Eddo :: Mon, 07/09/2018 - 6:28pm

Yes and no; it's really a cool bit of game theory at work.

The table from the article regarding the run/pass breakdown:

Run ... 68/107 . 63.6%
Pass . 179/399 . 44.9%

Running is about 40% more effective, but also is only done about 20% of the time. A good amount of the effectiveness of running is probably explained by its rarity, and if teams ran more, the success of running plays would go down, while the success of passing plays would increase. The current system isn't at equilibrium, but I'd be wary of stating that "running is the better option".

EDIT: Ah, I see you prefaced that with "In a passing league", and that does seem more true (though to be more accurate, it's better to say, "in a league where 80% of attempts are passes").

by MJK :: Tue, 07/10/2018 - 1:44am

I know it wasn't technically a 2-point, and was only second down, but I'm curious... what type of play was the infamous "why didn't they just hand it to Lynch" Seahawks-Patriots SB play?

A 2-man pick, of some sort, I imagine?

by Vincent Verhei :: Tue, 07/10/2018 - 2:46pm

Click the play "2 man pick in." It's to the left side instead of the right, but this is the play the Seahawks were trying to run: the slot player runs a flat "route" to pick the outside corner, leaving the outside receiver a free path on a slant into the end zone. The Seahawks had their receivers almost stacked, but the idea was the same: Jermaine Kearse, from the inside, would pick Malcolm Butler, giving Ricardo Lockette a free path on a slant. It didn't work because Brandon Browner absolutely stoned Kearse at the line and he never got anywhere near Butler. As much as people want to blame Darrell Bevell or Russell Wilson or Lockette for this, Kearse carries as much blame as anyone else.


by MJK :: Tue, 07/10/2018 - 1:46am

Also, another stupid question--what's the difference between a bootleg and a rollout? Both involve the QB rolling out of the pocket, and the author didn't draw play diagrams for the rollouts? Is it the pass routes run? (Rollouts are kind of a short option pure pass play, whereas bootlegs look like a run and target deeper receivers?)

by ssereb :: Tue, 07/10/2018 - 1:55am

If I remember correctly, on a rollout play the entire offense moves in the direction the quarterback is moving, while a bootleg is more of a misdirection play where the QB moves in the other direction from the run action.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Tue, 07/10/2018 - 7:50am

That would be my understanding of it.

It should be fairly obvious why one of these is successful and one isn't.

On the rollout play the offense gives itself less room to operate by getting defenders to pack tighter into an already small area. The bootleg opens up the whole of the other side of the field for the QB to go one-on-one with a defender who may or may not do their job.

Of course that doesn't quite explain why an inside run is more successful given that it also operates in a small area but I guess that's because it's a quick developing play. The offense has the advantage of knowing what to do and when the ball will be snapped.

Edit: appears we're wrong about bootleg play. Can go in the same direction but it isn't obvious that the QB has the ball usually involves a fake handoff. Apparently named because from Prohibition bootleggers hiding bottles of whiskey down their trousers just as QB hides ball behind his thigh!

by Pen :: Tue, 07/10/2018 - 4:01am

So they should have handed the ball to Lynch.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Tue, 07/10/2018 - 5:54am

The big takeaway for me is that being predictable isn't good unless you've got the biggest offensive line in football that can blow the opposition off the ball, or a Randy Moss type freak to outjump defenders.

The intro hints at how to be successful. The Patriots had three 2-pt plays prepared for their SB win against Atlanta. They never have a predictable play and I've never seen the same one repeated. Their plays are always creative and usually have an element of misdirection/surprise. That's what the Eagles did to them on the 4th down SB play.

This doesn't mean the Pats always make their 2pt conversions but they increase the odds on doing so.

by Will Allen :: Wed, 07/11/2018 - 10:10am

And the irony is that play calling can be far less predictable as offensive talent increases. The more players you have who can do more things well, the number of plays that can be executed well significantly increases. Give me Kurt Warner, Orlando Pace, Marshall Faulk, Issac Bruce, etc., and the playbook can become huge, even at the goal line, because everybody can do everything. Which makes it even more ironic that one of the biggest Super Bowl upsets occurred when Mike Martz was too effing stubborn/egoistic to simply hand the ball off to Faulk more often. In contrast, Darth of Foxboro never gets in his own way in that manner.

In contrast, I frequently get amused when I hear or read fans or pundits heap criticism on playcallers for teams that have a notable talent deficit. It seems it never occurs to them that teams that don't have many players, who do a variety of things well, must necessarily have a significantly shorter list of plays which can be used.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 07/11/2018 - 1:28pm

The same Darth of Foxboro who held his starting corner out of the Owl for spite and gave up 41 points and 538 yards to a backup QB?

by Will Allen :: Wed, 07/11/2018 - 2:14pm

The exception that proves the rule, assuming it was spite which motivated him. The contrast with Martz is that we've seen Martz stubbornly stick with preferred paradigm of offense, across multiple franchises, without regard to what personnel was available to him.

by Dan :: Wed, 07/11/2018 - 5:03am

I wonder how often the playcall changes at the line based on what look the defense is showing. For instance, it might be that most QB draws are plays that the offense checks to when they see that the defense is unprepared for it. So, despite their high success rate, running more QB draws might not be a good idea.

by Will Allen :: Wed, 07/11/2018 - 10:13am

Absolutely. The problem with studies like this is that people draw the wrong conclusions, because they ignore context.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 07/11/2018 - 1:29pm

Did they control for the epoch change in 2015 when defensive conversions began?