Philadelphia Eagles: New PAT Rules Favor the Birds


NFL owners, this week, elected not to put the Eagles’ proposed PAT rule (which would have moved two-point conversion attempts to the one-yard line) into effect. Instead, they favored the proposal put forth by the NFL Competition Committee.

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But…Eagles’ fans, nor Chip Kelly, nor the legions of people hoping that Tim Tebow will get another shot to prove he’s actually a terrific quarterback masquerading as a guy who has no idea how to play the position…needn’t fret:

The change, although not exactly what the Eagles wanted, still benefits them relative to the rest of the league.

The details of the change are pretty simple:

1) The ball will be snapped from the 15-yard line on PAT attempts rather than from the 2-yard line. This means that extra points will be roughly 32-yard field goal attempts rather than roughly 19-yard attempts.

2) Defenses can now return failed attempts of PATs or Two-point conversions (blocked kicks, botched snaps, interceptions, fumbles) the length of the field for a safety.

So how does it help the Eagles? Well. Let’s take a look at the simplest part first:

The Eagles have a young Pro Bowl kicker in Cody Parkey who’s 32-for-36 kicking field goals in his NFL career and has never missed one from where the new PAT will be or closer.

Nov 16, 2014; Green Bay, WI, USA; Philadelphia Eagles kicker Cody Parkey (1) during the game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Green Bay won 53-20. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

It’s fair to assume that any NFL kicker would be able to handle a 32-yard field goal, but the Eagles, with a 23-year-old coming off of a tremendous rookie season, seem to be in a better position than most.

The Eagles’ biggest advantage, however, isn’t about making field goals at all. It’s about preventing other teams from doing so. And it’s about what happens when they don’t.

Chip Kelly and special teams coach Dave Fipp have made it crystal clear that special teams is a priority in Philadelphia. And not in the way that all teams say that it is. But really. Actually.

The Eagles have cleared roster space to add special teams aces like Chris Maragos, Trey Burton, Bryan Braman, Chris Prosinski, and, most recently, 2014 Chargers’ Special Teamer of the Year, Seyi Ajirotutu.

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As mercurial as the roster management of Chip Kelly has been since coming to the NFL in 2013, one of his plans has been crystal clear: When another team is letting a stud special teams player go in favor of someone who has the chance to compete on offense or defense one day… the Eagles scoop that player up.

And the results are clear. Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News has been evaluating and grading NFL special teams for twenty years and the Eagles were the cream of the crop in 2014. It wasn’t even close.

Eagles’ special teams units blocked a league-high six kicks and tied an NFL record with seven special teams touchdowns in 2014.

Blocked kicks are impossible to predict. And whether they’ll be returned for touchdowns (rather, safeties) is even more difficult to account for.

But after the season they had in 2014, the Philadelphia Eagles, more than any other team, will cause opponents to pause before trotting their kicker out onto the field in 2015 and beyond.

Which brings me to my next point. What if opponents opt to go for two?

Well, it plays right into the Eagles strength: A terrific 3-4 defensive line with an active group of linebackers behind them.

The Eagles, for all their defensive struggles in 2014, only gave up 3.7 yards per rush — fourth best in the NFL.

One of the best in the business, Fletcher Cox anchors a line that features underrated producer Cedric Thornton and nose-tackle Bennie Logan.

Behind them, Mychal Kendricks and newly-added Kiko Alonso are fast, gap-shooter type linebackers that complement the big bodies in front of them. DeMeco Ryans, the leader of the group, is more of a flow-analyzer and play diagnoser. While Brandon Graham and Connor Barwin are edge-setters and pass rushers. It’s one of the more versatile and well rounded groups of linebackers in the game and it’s a group, along with the line in front of them, built primarily to stop the run.

Big plays killed the Eagles’ defense in 2014. And it’s yet to be seen whether the safety position has been improved upon. It may, for Eagles’ fans, be another long year of watching corners get beat over the top with nary a safety in sight to help out.

But those holes won’t come into play when the ball is snapped from the two.

The league is attempting to incentivize two-point conversions. They make for more excitement and uncertainty than kicked extra points and they want teams trying more of them.

And so should the Eagles.

And then there’s the added benefit of Chip Kelly: a coach that no one seems to be able to figure out. Great receivers? Cut em. Franchise backs? Trade em. Cheap young quarterbacks? Nah, let’s get an expensive one with bad knees. Tebow failed in the NFL? Let’s sign him.

Whether or not Chip Kelly will elect to go for two in any given situation will, similarly, be tough to predict.

I’m not sure the number of two point attempts will rise all that dramatically, league-wise. But my guess, as of today, is that Kelly’s Eagles will be near the top of the league in two point attempts. And the team is made to convert:

Swapping out LeSean McCoy and his 13.1 percent stuff rate (the rate at which a runner is stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage) for DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews who both have sub-10% rates will be a major advantage should the Eagles choose to pound the ball into the endzone.

To put those numbers into some perspective: McCoy’s 13.1% was the worst among any back with more than 200 carries. Murray’s 9.4% was sixth-best in that same group.

Mathews didn’t play much in 2014 due to injury. But in 2013 he was 4th in the NFL in that category… only stuffed on about 6% of his carries.

Say what you will about McCoy‘s electrifying talent or how Murray and Mathews will fare in Philadelphia, their added size and more downhill style will help the eagles in goal-to-go situations and potential PAT attempts.

And then (I write this reluctantly) there is the Tebow effect.

I have made little secret of the fact that I don’t believe that Tim Tebow can play quarterback in the NFL.

But I do believe he can play quarterback better than the average fullback.

With an offensive expert like Chip Kelly at the helm… a coach whose expertise is devising ways to exploit advantageous matchups on offense… Tebow could be dangerous from two yards out.

There is a reason that the Eagles elected to work Tebow out. And to sign him. And I want very badly to believe that that reason has nothing to do with him taking regular season snaps under center.

But it’s easy to imagine the two-point conversion value of a man built like Mike Alstott but capable (I use the word liberally) of throwing a pass.

The two-point scenario emphasizes all of Tebow’s pluses and mitigates most of his minuses as a player: The short distance lends itself, of course, to designed quarterback runs. This is a Tebow-ian strength.

The necessary quickness of goal-line passes generally eliminates the possibility of long progressions and check-downs. Tebow does not do either of those things well. He is best when passing to a primary target and not having to look elsewhere. On two point conversions that’s just what he’d be asked to do.

And with the fear of a quick slant being picked off and returned 100 yards for a safety… one of Tebow’s few strengths as a passer will come in handy: Tebow has only thrown nine interceptions in 361 career pass attempts. Yes, that is mostly because he’s throwing simple passes for short gains. And yes, it’s also because sometimes his bad throws are so poorly aimed that even the defender cannot make a play on them. But both of those things should also remain true on quick two-yard conversion attempts.

Now, had the Eagles proposal been passed and had the conversion line been moved up to the one? Well, then I’d be writing a whole article about how valuable Tim Tebow may just have become.

But as it is, it still bears noting the potential advantage that Tebow could bring as a two-point specialist in Philadelphia.

It’s likely his best chance to make and to help the Eagles in 2015.

Whether it’s the kicking stylings of Cody Parkey, the coaching stylings of Chip Kelly, the running stylings of Murray and Mathews, or the run-stopping stylings of the Eagles front-seven… the NFL’s new PAT rules seem to favor the Eagles at every turn.

Will the effect be great? Probably not. Statistically, in fact, I predict their won’t be a whole lot of difference at all.

But in a game won and lost by inches? The Eagles might have just gained a centimeter or two.

Next: Tebow Time in Philly

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