Did Shanahan play the odds right on two-point try?

Did Shanahan play the odds right on two-point try?
December 16, 2013, 2:45 pm
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On Sunday, two NFL teams scored late touchdowns to pull to within a point of tying the game. In one instance, the Redskins Mike Shanahan decided to go for the two-point conversion and the win. In the other game, Mike Munchak of the Titans sent his kicker onto the field.

Washington’s two-point conversion failed. Tennessee tied the game but lost in overtime. So did Munchak and Shanahan make the right call?

Prior to Week 15, NFL teams had attempted 54 two-point conversions during the 2013 season and 27 have been good. The simple math tells you that it’s a 50-50 shot.

Related:Bryant leaves the field early]

Before you know the outcome of the coin toss the chances of winning a game in overtime are also about 50-50. So each coach made a choice where he had a 50 percent chance of success, right?

Not necessarily.

There was a twist in the Titans game. The Cardinals were offside on the extra-point kick. Munchak decided to take the point rather than accepting the penalty and trying for two from the one yard line. Since the start of the 2012 season, teams that have gone for a touchdown on fourth and goal at the one—essentially the same situation as a two-point try from the one—have scored 60 percent of the time. So Munchak traded a 60 percent chance of winning the game for a 50 percent chance, not a good play.

[Related: Points soar for Redskins opponents]

The Redskins’ attempt was from the two and there is evidence to suggest that Shanahan would have had a better chance for success had he chosen a running play instead of having Kirk Cousins pass the ball.  

Since 1999, teams have passed the ball on two-point attempts 642 times (70 percent) and have run 276 times (30 percent). Teams succeeded in getting the two points in 44 percent of the passes and 54 percent when they ran the ball.

This suggests that Shanahan should have called a run. Since teams throw the ball seven out of 10 two point attempts it makes sense that the defense would be looking for the pass. The numbers show that a run would have had a better chance for success, perhaps because it would likely catch the defense off guard.

[Related: Morris upset about pair of fumbles]

Of course, each situation is different. Shanahan said that if they lined up and saw a defensive look that they didn’t like they would have called timeout and kicked it. So it’s tough to knock the particular play call but it is fair to discuss the odds.

Some said momentum was on the Redskins’ side because they had just driven 80 yards for the touchdown that gave them the chance. Others look at the seven turnovers the Redskins had committed on the day and say that the chances are that there would have been a fatal mistake in overtime anyway.  

In any case, it was pretty much a coin flip and Shanahan liked his chances. Hard to fault him for that.

[Related: Green blames Shanahan for Redskins problems