Will these NFL coaches ever learn about not going for 2-point conversions?
Well, Dan Campbell, thank you for giving me an easy topic for this week’s column.
Otherwise, I might’ve had to sermonize about John Gruden and all the murky depths that might entail with his offensive email trail.
Instead, I get to talk about — for at least the fourth time in this space over a number of years — about 2-point conversions.
That’s because the new, enthusiastic Detroit Lions head coach went for two and the lead in their game at the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.
Of course, hardly any of you — and me too — got to watch the game, since it wasn’t on local TV as it was bumped off by the Green Bay Packers.
But that’s another topic for another time.
Today, let me explain how that one-point vs. two-point decision could and did blow up in Campbell’s face.
On the surface, it fits perfectly with the new-look Lions’ bold approach of never backing down, even bloodying kneecaps on the way back up when they get knocked down.
But it wasn’t the smart thing to do, at least I don’t think so.
Let’s look at what happened, then what probably would’ve happened if they went for the one-point kick.
What really happened is the Lions took a 17-16 lead with 37 seconds to go.
First off, even good teams only make the 2-pointer about half the time, compared to, even with the setback to the 15-yard line, at least 95 percent success on the one-point kick.
Missing that 2-pointer would’ve all but doomed the Lions, as the onside kick that would’ve ensued is only recovered about 5 percent of the time since new rules were passed a few years ago.
But with making the 2-pointer and taking the lead, Campbell could’ve really been bold and tried an onside kick anyway. Recovering it would absolutely guarantee the win.
Back to what really happened. The Lions kicked off successfully and actually pinned Minnesota quite deep in its own end.
But you know how every coach — even Campbell, it seems — plays the prevent defense in these cases.
With a couple timeouts remaining, Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins made a couple of 15- or 20-yard passes down the middle and was able to set up for a 54-yard field goal on the game’s final play.
Ding! That’s not the ball hitting the goal post, instead it was three points being added on the Minnesota side of the scoreboard for — what, again? — a 19-17 final.
That’s the same score that Baltimore beat Detroit with Justin Tucker’s 66-yarder a few weeks back AND the same score New Orleans beat the Lions with Tom Dempsey’s then-record 63-yarder in 1970.
How could Minnesota just move downfield with such deadly efficiency? Part of it is the prevent defense, but it’s also the Vikings’ knowledge that they have nothing to lose. If Cousins throws an interception, well, that’s the price you pay since you really have no choice.
Now if the Lions had kicked the extra point, the game would’ve been tied and Minnesota again would’ve taken the kickoff. But they wouldn’t be nearly as aggressive on offense, knowing a turnover deep in their own end would set Detroit up for their own game-wining field goal.
Instead, they could be satisfied just getting to overtime.
Now if Campbell felt his team couldn’t win in OT — though that would fly in the face of his take-no-prisoners approach — then winning in regulation would be correct.
If there had been, say, about 10 or 12 seconds left when the Lions took the lead, I could understand the 2-point conversion to take the lead. But Minnesota was left with way too much time and timeouts to get into field goal position.
Now onto this week’s picks:
Today, 8:20 p.m.
Tampa Bay at Philadelphia — I’m hearing Tampa is starting to get healthier, and they know they’ve been vulnerable lately. Buccaneers, 30-21.
Sunday, 9:30 a.m.
Miami at Jacksonville, at London — After two weeks of the Jets, Falcons, Dolphins and Jaguars in their capital, Englanders are going to think the coronavirus severely impaired the quality of American football. No, it’s just the teams we’re sending over. Dolphins, 27-19.
Sunday, 1 p.m.
Los Angeles Chargers at Baltimore — This looks like an AFC Championship preview. But a little bird told me the Chargers’ Achilles heel is its their defense. Can you see Lamar Jackson rubbing his hands together and snickering with this nugget of info? Ravens, 28-17.
Minnesota at Carolina — I’ve been told the Vikings could easily be 5-0. Yeah, but they’re 2-3 because they choke it away time after time — except against Detroit. Panthers, 27-26.
Green Bay at Chicago — Doesn’t Aaron Rodgers usually have fun toying with these Bears? I don’t see Justin Fields keeping up with the ol’ gunslinger in a shootout. Packers, 34-31.
Cincinnati at Detroit — Even if the Bengals are distraught after their OT loss to Green Bay, they’ll be inspired by the sheer will of a winless Lions team. Bengals, 24-20.
Houston at Indianapolis — With a professional QB, Houston is literally like that chicken with its head cut off, just running around aimlessly till it drops. Colts, 28-16.
Los Angeles Rams at New York Giants — The Giants are starting to look like the headless-chicken Texans with injuries to QB Daniel Jones, running back Saquon Barkley and receiver Kenny Golladay. Rams, 40-17.
Kansas City at Washington — Washington’s defense has become so bad even out-of-sync KC is happy to see them. Chiefs, 33-24.
Sunday, 4 p.m.
Arizona at Cleveland — The Cardinals’ defense can keep up with Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield, but I don’t know if the Browns’ defense can keep up with Arizona’s Kyler Murray. Cardinals, 26-22.
Las Vegas at Denver — Often when a coach is fired, the team rallies for a week or two. I don’t know if that applies in this case, especially on the road in Denver. Broncos, 23-17.
Dallas at New England — Bill Belichick may start asking, “Did you get the license plate number of that truck that just hit us?” Cowboys, 37-24.
Sunday, 8:20 p.m.
Seattle at Pittsburgh — Pittsburgh and QB Ben Roethlisberger will be pronounced cured of whatever ailed them with two straight weeks of solid offense. But give just as much credit — ah, blame actually — to the Seahawks’ defense. Steelers, 27-20.
Monday, 8:15 p.m.
Buffalo at Tennessee — I’m counting on Buffalo being level-headed enough not to get an inflated ego after one prime-time win last week. Bills, 35-21.
Last week — 12-4, 75 percent. Season — 53-27, 66 percent.
Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is email@example.com.