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The Steelers are outsmarting the rest of the NFL by going for 2

The team is 3-for-3 on two-point attempts this season and doesn't plan on changing its strategy anytime soon.

Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

When the NFL decided to move extra point attempts from the 2-yard line back to the 15-yard line this offseason, it essentially set up a situation daring teams to go for for two after touchdowns. So far this year the Steelers have accepted that challenge. Through two weeks they're a perfect 3-for-3 on two-point conversions, and, according to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, don't plan on altering their strategy anytime soon.

"Oh, we're going to keep doing it," Roethlisberger said, via ESPN. "We don't practice it this much to not do it. We practice it every single day. ... I tried to tell you guys early on that we would do it, and I think you guys kind of didn't quite believe it. But it's something we feel comfortable with."


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Among the button-down fraternity of NFL coaches this line of thinking is almost completely unheard of. For years, these decision-makers eschewed two-point attempts as if they were some sort of disease created by Satan himself. Whether that's because they didn't understand the math -- two points are more than one point -- or were fearful of going against convention and being met by an angry mob on Monday morning, is unclear.

What is clear, though, is that NFL coaches have traditionally viewed the two-point conversions as a "break in case of emergency only" type of weapon to be used during desperate times only -- meaning the fourth quarter. On Sunday, Pittsburgh became the first team to even attempt a two-point conversion during the first quarter of a game since 1998, and that was a fake extra point attempt. You have to go back a year earlier than that to find the last "regular" two-point attempt in the first quarter. That play involved Broncos running back Terrell Davis, who's been retired for 15 years (via ESPN).

But while it's fun to poke at men earning millions to "lead" yet never taking chances due to a fear of losing their jobs, it is easy to see why in the past coaches never wished to go for two. The extra point had essentially become automatic. From 2010-14, kickers converted more than 99 percent of all extra-point attempts.

Going for two, meanwhile, was always a risky proposition. Last season teams converted it 47.5 percent of the time.

Historically, the number is at 45 percent. Those numbers do seem to say that if a team decided to only go for two, over the long run they'd probably be in good shape -- similar to why it's smart for NBA teams to take a lot of three-pointers instead of twos. But it was understandable that coaches preferred to take whatever points they were sure they could get.

No longer is that the case. To the dismay of many kickers, the league's decision to move extra-point attempts back has resulted in more misses (9) through two weeks this season than we saw all of last year (8). If we take the number of extra-point attempts and misses from the first two weeks and extrapolate them over the entire season then we get 1,240 attempts and a whopping 72 misses.

As for two-point attempts this season: teams are 9 of 15 on converting them through two weeks. As Gregg Easterbrook of the New York Times pointed out, these numbers would suggest that 100 two-point attempts would produce 106 points, while 100 extra point kicks would produce 94 points.

The point of all this is that the extra point is no longer automatic. And yet, for some reason, the Steelers seem to be the only team looking at this new math. According to ESPN, Roethlisberger and Steelers quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner take time every week to review their favorite goal line plays and search for the ones that they think would work best for two-point conversions.

"If you're up 8-0 and they go score, they have a decision to make," Roethlisberger said. "We feel like we're a team that's going to do it enough that it's going to be hard to get a beat on us."

Of course, not every team has a quarterback like Roethlisberger, or a wide receiver like Antonio Brown, or a running game like Pittsburgh. But plenty do have explosive offenses. Going for two isn't always the smart move, and it's not for everyone. That said, it's certainly something we should be seeing more frequently and from more teams.