The Deuce is Loose: Did Pat Shurmur make the proper conversion choice?

Scott Pianowski
Shutdown Corner

No one is likely to complain if the opening-day film between the Eagles and Browns turns up missing. Philadelphia escaped with a 17-16 victory on Sunday despite four Michael Vick interceptions, and the Cleveland offense didn't coat itself in glory, either (Brandon Weeden threw four picks, Trent Richardson plodded along for 2.1 yards a carry, and the club managed just 11 first downs).

Maybe at the end of it all, it came down to math. Pat Shurmur, you've got some explaining to do.

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The Browns seemed to be in control of things early in the fourth period. Phil Dawson's field goal at the 14:15 mark brought them to within one point, and D'Qwell Jackson's interception return for a touchdown just 16 seconds later put Cleveland ahead by five. In front of the conversion attempt, Shurmur and the Browns had a decision to make.

Go for one, or go for two?

Much of two-point strategy has become standard in the NFL these days, but coaches and analysts generally don't agree on when to apply the theory of the decision card. If the Browns were facing the "up five" conversion call in the first half, or even in the third quarter, it's an easy decision — you kick, take the free point. But at some point in the fourth period, the play becomes to go for two — to try to get to a seven-point lead, protect against one score.

Shurmur opted to kick and take a 16-10 lead, a move that is going to unleash all sorts of second guessing. We know how the story ends: the Eagles drove for a touchdown with 1:18 to play, and their conversion put them ahead by one, 17-16. Weeden's fourth pick of the game ended things a few snaps later.

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I don't think there's a clear-cut right answer for the situation the Browns faced. If you go for the deuce and don't make it, you run the risk of losing to a pair of Philadelphia field goals — and surely the Eagles will see multiple possessions with 13:59 left on the clock. But had Cleveland played aggressively and bagged the 2-pointer, obviously the late Philly touchdown (and kick) only evens the score.

This general debate probably comes down to a line in the sand that teams need to draw in the fourth period. All else equal, when would you want your team to try to jump from 5 to 7? Anytime in the fourth period? Inside of 12 minutes? Ten minutes to go? Eight minutes left? Even later than that?

The fact that the Browns lost this game shouldn't skew the judgment of Shurmur's choice. It's all about being process-driven, not outcome-obsessed. Feel free to share your feeling on fourth-quarter strategy, and the Philly-Cleveland opener, in the comments.

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