October 10, 2019

Ferguson: Breaking down the two-point conversion

Geoff Robins/CFL.ca

It’s one of the most underrated parts of the CFL game today.

You’ve seen it numerous times when your team scores and the celebration of six points is rapidly cut short because there is a sudden realization the job isn’t done.

The sideline throws up two fingers, the quarterback relays the message and all of a sudden the offence is huddling as the defence attempts to lick their wounds and salvage the possession to just six points, or risk having the offence double down and bury team morale even more by adding two more.

The two-point conversion is equal parts science and art, which makes it one of the more unique situations in Canadian football. The science angle is due to the predictability of goal line defences – usually man coverage with plenty of blitzing – and the tried and tested offensive concepts which have been proven to work against them.

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Crossers, rub routes, misdirection runs, play-action bootlegs, back corner fades, zone reads and many more are all on the big laminated play calling menu held by offensive coordinators who decide to go for two. Despite their best efforts though, it is often the art of two-point conversions which make the difference.

In a goal line situation things happen quicker. Receivers run out of space quicker, blitzes start closer and the requirement to process the game at a quicker rate becomes paramount. Quarterbacks who can get a sense for their surroundings before the snap or react with spontaneity to create scoring opportunities are king of the two-point conversion.

Much of this learning can only come in real life, game day situations. CFL quarterbacks are improving their two-point attempt efficiency as the attempt to tag on two more becomes more and more common, especially for certain pass-happy conversion teams which made this nuggets from CFL stats guru Steve Daniel jump out to me last week before the Hamilton and Edmonton showdown.

Gone are the days where two-point convert attempts came about only in necessity while trailing late in games. Now they often start games, or are used as part of a theoretical math equation often far beyond comprehension of the average fan – or broadcaster.

The two-point conversion can determine a game, especially in overtime, when teams are forced to go for two, meaning your club might have to dust off the ready list and find that perfect play in their biggest moment of the season.

So what is happening on two-point conversion attempts over the past couple of years?

First and foremost, coordinators are passing their way into the end zone for two. In 2017 and 2018 the pass play call percentage on conversion attempts was 74.7% but this season has jumped to 82.2%. In that same time frame the success rate of passes is down (-6.2%) to 53.8% and runs successfully earning two points are up (+1.9%) to an even 50.0% in 2019 (7/14). Here is where those rushes – good and bad – have hit this season.

Every quarterback in the CFL right now is right handed, but I’m not sure that explains why offensive coordinators are choosing to snap the ball from the left hash 78.4% of the time in 2019. Of 79 two-point conversion attempts, 62 have come from the left hash, 10 from the middle (12.6%) and just seven (8.8%) from the right hash.

What’s more intriguing to me than the league wide stats on conversion attempts is the difference in philosophy for each CFL team. Anyone who watched the Ottawa REDBLACKS with Offensive Coordinator Jamie Elizondo knows how diverse Ottawa’s two-point package was, allowing for CFL leading aggression in going for two.

As seen above, the loss of Elizondo in 2019 has completely brought the REDBLACKS willingness to attempt two-point conversions back down to Earth while the addition of Tommy Condell in Hamilton, along with the open minded approach of Orlondo Steinauer, has completely changed the way the Tiger-Cats are approaching post-touchdown encores.

The Ticats are on pace this season to account for more than double that of the next closest team when it comes to two-point conversion makes. That is literally stealing points against the opposition as Hamilton has found the balance of run and pass, science and art to help add an extra point or two on the board. Only five players in the CFL have scored more than two, two-point conversions this season with three of them wearing black and gold (Bralon Addison, Brandon Banks and Marcus Tucker) while Calgary’s Eric Rogers and Reggie Begelton make up the back end of the CFL’s most dangerous conversion catchers.

Hamilton is also on pace to pass the REDBLACKS’ high water marks in 2017 and 2018 for two-point conversions attempted while the Bombers have yet to attempt a single two-pointer this season.

Finally, here’s a look at where CFL teams are throwing the football on two-point conversion attempts.

Only once this year has a pass been completed in a two-point conversion attempt and not resulted in points. The average depth of target is 7.3 yards past the line of scrimmage but don’t let that fool you into believing everyone is throwing at linebackers in man coverage just behind the uprights.

The truth is on two-point conversions, passers are primarily working intricate route combinations or isolated receivers along the goal line. If that isn’t the call to action, and defenders are sitting with heavy feet ready to jump a short route, passers are taking to the back corner of the end zone including a heavy amount of work for boundary corners and halfbacks defending all those left hash snaps mentioned above.

The two-point conversion, it just might change your season.