Is it time to kick kickers to the curb?
This is an article from the Sept. 28, 2015 issue
When NFL owners voted in May to move the line of scrimmage for extra points back 13 yards, from the two-yard line to the 15, they were probably envisioning something like what we saw on Sunday in the Steelers' 43--18 blowout of the 49ers. Following Pittsburgh's third TD, coach Mike Tomlin called on Josh Scobee for the extra point, but the 12th-year kicker dinked his attempt off the left upright. More important, after his team's first two TDs Tomlin had not called on Scobee, instead going for two. (The Steelers converted both.) Ultimately, three Pittsburgh touchdowns yielded a pair of successful two-point conversions and a missed kick. And the accumulation of those four points proved much more entertaining than three (practically unmissable) 19-yard PAT attempts ever could have.
Through Sunday, kickers missed nine PATs (including Zach Hocker's blocked try, above), converting on 143 of 152, or 94.1%. That's less successful than Weeks 1 and 2 last year, when kickers went 139 for 140 (99.3%). But it's not a huge change—which is why Tomlin's taste for two-point tries likely won't be adopted leaguewide in 2015. In that regard, two weeks into the season the decision to increase the degree of difficulty on the PAT feels like a half measure. The NFL wants to make kicking more challenging, which in theory makes that aspect of the game more interesting. But the end result the league should be pursuing isn't a fun-to-watch PAT. It's the minimization of the placekicking game altogether.
Think about it: The less kicking impacts a game, the better TV viewing becomes. Whatever replaces kicking—more fourth-down attempts, more two-point conversions—will undoubtedly feature marquee players: QBs, running backs and receivers going up against first-team defenses. And no matter how challenging kicking becomes, a mainstream O versus a mainstream D will always be a more intriguing matchup than a kicker against a special teams unit.
Take Scobee's missed PAT. On the TD that set up that play, viewers could readily see the physical skills that led to six points: Ben Roethlisberger's ability to pinpoint a deep ball, Darrius Heyward-Bey's speed and sticky hands. But could anyone readily tell what was behind Scobee's miss? A poor plant foot? The tilt of the hold? Let's be honest: Almost no one knows. What apparent physical trait, exactly, does the Colts' Adam Vinatieri possess that makes him the most accomplished kicker of his era? Crickets.
For this reason, don't be surprised if the NFL keeps PAT kicks back at the 15-yard line—no matter how many misses pile up this season—and in the near future discourages any kind of kicking by narrowing the uprights.