If practice makes perfect, then early practice should make Cody Parkey just that … right?
First Bear on the field doing pre-game work today (at least who I’ve spotted) is Cody Parkey.
— Kevin Fishbain (@kfishbain) January 6, 2019
As the old saying goes: the early bird gets the worm right through the center of the uprights!
Dad jokes aside, Parkey’s first season with the Chicago Bears has been problematic at times. There have been moments when things were going well, like when he started the year making 9 of 10 out of the gate. And even after his most disastrous game against Detroit, Parkey rebounded by making 9 of 10 in a stretch after that. But some late-season misses have raised concern levels in Chicago to another level. It’s one thing to have a struggling kicker when your team is struggling through a three-year stretch of winning just 14 of 48 games. But it’s something else to have a question-mark in the kicking game when you’re a playoff team. Unfortunately, that’s where the Bears are right now.
So knowing what they know about Parkey, his overall numbers, and his uneven play at Soldier Field, they should go for two more often moving forward … right?
The Bears might be best suited to employ the unconventional strategy of punting on the place kicker and going for two. For starters, they have been good in the red zone, scoring (on average) 2.2 red zone touchdowns per game. That kind of scoring proficiency in close suggests they should be more aggressive after scoring touchdowns. They have an innovative play-caller (Matt Nagy), mobile quarterback (Mitch Trubisky), two running backs (Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen) who can hurt you on the ground or as a pass-catcher, large red-zone targets (Allen Robinson II, Adam Shaheen), and precise route-runners (Taylor Gabriel, Anthony Miller) who can make big plays in small spaces. For what it’s worth, the Bears were successful on 80 percent of their two-point conversion attempts this year. But since we’re discussing a small sample, let’s try to expand a bit.
Back in November, ESPN’s Seth Walder, Brian Burke, and Paul Sabin teamed up to study which teams should go for it more often. Using a 47.7 percent rate of successful two-point conversions since 2001 as a guiding light, the first takeaway is that two-point tries have a higher point expectancy (.954) than extra points (.94). It’s a thin margin and every point counts in the playoffs.
When ESPN’s trio originally released a point expectancy from two-point tries and PATs, the extra-point expectancy was at 0.95, as was the point expectancy from two-point conversions. At that point in the season, the Bears were statistically better off kicking extra points because there were no major gains to be made. But Parkey has missed a few since then, which has diminished some of the confidence Bears fans have in him and opened the door for Head Coach Matt Nagy to open up his playbook and put some things on tape.
So where would the Bears need to be in order to fully take advantage of two-point conversion tries?
For the sake of this exercise, let’s keep the Bears’ point expectancy on two-point attempts at 0.95. For Chicago to have a greater point expectancy that would justify going for more two-point conversions, their PAT point expectancy would need to be on the level of the Jets (0.90), Browns (0.91), Buccaneers (0.92). Parkey isn’t quite there, but he has kicked poorly enough during stretches to push us toward researching this.
Unfortunately, there is no cut-and-dried answer. Because even after considering the offense, defensive opponent, and the math behind it all, one still has to consider game situation and how the teams have played the game at hand. Past performance does not predict future outcomes and the math can only be so valuable. There are so many variables that go into this that it’s hard to come up with solid footing to stand on.
I suppose the takeaway here is that the Bears should – at minimum – give hearty consideration to going for two. But until Parkey gives the team’s decision-makers reason to doubt him in Sunday’s game, the Bears might be wise to stick with point-after attempts.