Earlier this week, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger put forth a radical idea: He wants the Steelers to go for two after every touchdown they score in 2016. The idea is mathematically (if not necessarily situationally) sound. Based on the average conversion rate for extra points in the first year where teams kicked them from the 15-yard line (94.1 percent), a team that goes for two every time only needs to convert 47.1 percent of the time to generate more points than if it kicked the extra point after every touchdown.
So maybe we shouldn't be surprised that Saints quarterback Drew Brees is on board with Roethlisberger's plan. Brees went on the Dan Patrick Show and said that he is "all for" going for two every time.
"Personally, I feel like if we went for two, that we could make it more than 50 percent of the time," he said. "And I think fourth down, depending on where you are on the field, I feel like if you're in a manageable situation, we could convert most fourth downs. So I'm all for it."
As for whether he actually needs to float the idea to head coach Sean Payton, Brees said he doesn't think so. "I don't need to tell Coach Payton to be more aggressive," Brees said. "I think we've got that part of it taken care of."
We can actually check up on that stuff. Are the Saints especially aggressive in two-point and fourth down situations? Are they as likely or more likely than the rest of the league to convert? Well...
Since Brees and Payton got to the Saints in 2006, New Orleans ranks 13th league wide in two point conversion attempts when the game was within two scores (i.e. still competitive), per Pro-Football-Reference, having gone for it 16 times. There have been 480 total attempts league-wide in such situations, meaning the average team has gone for two 15 times in two-score games since 2006. So the Saints are right around league average here.
How about fourth downs? New Orleans has gone for it on fourth down 106 times in two-score games since 2006, 16th-most in the NFL. There have been 3,353 total attempts league wide in such situations, meaning the average team has gone for it 104.8 times in two-score games since 2006. So the Saints are right around league average there as well.
So maybe Brees does have to tell Payton to be more aggressive. He's basically been right at the league average in terms of both going for two and going for it on fourth down. Why might that be?
New Orleans was successful on eight of those 16 two-point tries, good for a conversion rate of exactly 50 percent. It's not quite the "more than 50 percent" Brees stated the Saints could make, but it's still a rate that generates a higher expected value than an extra point. If you spread out that conversion rate over an entire season's worth of touchdowns (the average team scored 42 in 2015), it would be worth around 11.7 points more than kicking the extra point every time. That's not bad!
The Saints are only 4-9 on two-point conversions where they had Brees throw a pass, though. That's a 44.4 percent conversion rate, which would generate a lower expected value than kicking the extra point every time. All but one of those 16 attempts came in the fourth quarter, though, and every one of them was motivated by the game and score situation. There weren't any attempts where the Saints went for two just because it was some sort of organizational philosophy to go for it. (This is true of most teams except the Steelers, who last season became the first team in 17 seasons to go for two in the first quarter.)
Their conversion rate (for a first down or better) on the fourth down plays is 49.1 percent, 17th-best in the league. Their conversion rate on 58 pass plays is just 46.6 percent, but that ranks eighth-best in the league over that period of time. (Followed through logically, this makes sense because teams are more likely to run on fourth down when there are fewer yards to go, which inherently makes the conversion rate higher than when they pass.)
So it's possible Payton isn't quite as aggressive as his reputation would have one believe he is, because the Saints aren't all that great at converting in these types of situations. But it's also possible (probable, even) that the Saints' conversion rate in these situations would go up if they went for two every time, or went for it on fourth down more often. If they know they're going to go for it, they'll practice those types of plays more, and maybe execute with a higher level of efficiency.