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Frank Reich Explains Aggressive Short-Yardage Decisions In Colts Loss To Jaguars

Let’s take a closer look at the short-yardage issues that cost the Colts in their 6-0 loss to the Jaguars on Sunday afternoon.

Don Juan Moore | Getty Images

INDIANAPOLIS – When Frank Reich dials up his aggressive nature of play calling on a Sunday afternoon, these decisions are not made without gobs and gobs of thinking.

Each Friday, Reich sits down with two analytics members of the Colts staff to go over a chart that the head coach uses when making ‘go' or 'no go’ decisions 48 hours away.

The chart varies from week-to-week based off the opponent, the expected point total in a game, the output of the opposing offense, weather and other factors that far outweigh the simple ‘go for it’ bellowing you hear from fans in attendance.

“They are quite sophisticated and quite complex and run off of millions of iterations,” Reich explained on Monday, after a couple of failed short-yardage 4th downs cost the Colts in their 6-0 loss to the Jaguars.


In those Friday meetings, Reich and his analytics gurus also dissect previous week scenarios from around the NFL to see if the Colts would have followed the same line of thinking.


Yes, a lot of thinking and calculating goes into these decisions.


When Sunday’s arise, the chart is not gospel though.


For example, Reich said he decided to go away from the chart on a couple of occasions against the Jaguars, including a 4th-and-1 punt from Indy’s own 48-yard line midway through the 1st quarter.


But it is a strong resource for the head coach, who is clearly all-in on this new-age of coaching football, with an emphasis on being more aggressive.


“Most people who use the analytics would agree that historical coaching philosophy has been a bit conservative and there’s reasons to be more aggressive,” Reich said on Monday. “Then you have to have maturity and wisdom to interpret the chart the way that you think is best for your team. That’s the art of it. That’s what the head coach gets paid to do. That’s what you take responsibility for. That’s what you take accountability for. No matter what the chart says, it’s still my decision at the end of the game. It’s not the chart’s decision.”


Reich made some debatable decisions on Sunday, with his team electing to go for a trio of 4th-and-1s.


Let’s take a closer look at those moves:


-12:32 to go in the 2nd quarter: 4th-and-1 from the Jacksonville 1-yard line

The Decision: A 17-play drive was kept alive thanks to Jacksonville’s reckless and immature playing style. After an unnecessary roughness penalty set the Colts up with a 1st-and-Goal from the 5-yard line, Reich made the correct decision to accept the penalty, and take three points off the board. That was a no brainer. Three plays later, the Colts faced a 4th-and-Goal from the Jacksonville 1-yard line. In the pre-game locker room on Sunday, Reich said he and Nick Sirianni discussed a play they could call if an early two-point conversion or 4th-and-2 arose in the game. They went with this call, which is designed to be a pass to T.Y. Hilton. However, the Jaguars showed a zone look they hadn’t previously displayed in this part of the field and took away that initial read. So the shovel pass to Jordan Wilkins was the next option and that had no chance of working.

Analyzing It: This was the right decision. By going for it, the Colts then pinned the Jaguars deep in their own territory and Indy benefited from that by starting their next drive at the Jacksonville 40-yard line. Still, it was a bit stinging to have a 17-play drive, which spanned nearly 8 minutes, end with 0 points. Honestly, I kind of liked the play call itself, but Jaguars defensive end Yannick Ngakoue totally blew this one up. Once the pass option was taken away, Ngakoue would have made the play had Luck kept it and also obviously made the tackle on the shovel to Wilkins.

Reich’s Thoughts: “That was a good chess move by them. They outcoached me on that.”

-8:59 to go in the 2nd quarter: 4th-and-1 from the Jacksonville 31-yard line

The Decision: The short field the Colts had gained from going for it on the previous possession looked like a drive that would end with a field goal. But Reich decided to go for another 4th-and-1. The play ended up being an end around to Eric Ebron, a similar play that the Colts had used three weeks earlier for a touchdown against the Jaguars. But this fast-moving Jacksonville defense sniffed it out right away with linebackers Telvin Smith and Myles Jack combining for a forced fumble and recovery. Field position advantage was lost and that set up the Jaguars with a shorter field, which they converted into a field goal for the first points of the game.

Analyzing It: This was the one I had the biggest issue with after the game. And Frank Reich admitted on Monday he would probably like to have this back, from a play-calling standpoint. Reich called it ‘high risk, high reward’ in using a play that the Colts had turned into some big chunks earlier in the season. On this 4th-and-inches, Reich admitted on Monday that he probably should have called a straight ahead run, or even a quarterback sneak. You caught Jacksonville off guard back in Week 11 when giving the ball to Ebron. It was a bit greedy thinking that would work again, especially when Ebron received the handoff about 4 yards from the first-down marker and was moving laterally against a speedy defense.

Reich’s Thoughts: “I took the risk for the big play and I was wrong. That would be the one I question myself the most on.”


-2:38 to go in the 4th quarter: 4th-and-1 from the Jacksonville 19-yard line

The Decision: Down 6 points at this time of the game, the Colts had to go for it. Reich took a timeout here, which let Jacksonville set their defense at such a critical point. It looked like the Colts were trying to free T.Y. Hilton or Eric Ebron on a two-man game, with Ryan Hewitt as a safety valve option in the flat. None of those options were even possible with Luck getting sacked from the blindside as Jacksonville safety Ronnie Harrison ran free, right past past Anthony Castonzo.

Analyzing It: Again, after forgoing/squandering earlier scoring opportunities, the Colts had to go for this 4th down. Watching this play develop, it made me think what would have happened had Jack Doyle been on the field. Clearly, there was some miscommunication in blocking the blindside of this play where Luck hardly had a chance. Right guard Marc Glowinski getting blown up didn’t help the situation either.


In summary, here was Reich recapping his decisions in short-yardage from Sunday:

“I feel very strongly those were the right decisions. I don’t think those decisions were on the edge of crazy. Even looking back on it a day later, I feel very strongly that I would do all of three over again. Those were the right decisions.”

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