When it comes to an NFL head coach being aggressive, it has been relegated to a merely subjective venture for most fans, as for any aggressive decision a coach makes there will be many who call is smart and many others who call it stupid. Football Outsiders has attempted to take as much of that out of it as possible by assigning a numerical value to how aggressive a coach is, and while it's not a perfect system, it's a helpful one that is worth looking at.
Aggressiveness Index numbers center around 1.0 and generally describe how much more (or less) likely each coach is to go for it on fourth down compared to his peers; for example, a coach with 1.20 AI is roughly 20 percent more likely to go for it than an average coach in equivalent situations. The Aggressiveness Index excludes obvious catch-up situations: third quarter, trailing by 15 or more points; fourth quarter, trailing by nine or more points; and in the last five minutes of the game, trailing by any amount. AI was expanded two years ago to include plays when the offense is on its own side of the field, excluding those obvious catch-up situations. A slightly newer version of AI we are using now also adjusts to judge coaches on all fourth-and-short opportunities, even when the play doesn't actually record as fourth-and-short because of one of those bogus delay of game penalties that moves the punter back five yards.
In short, the metric is an attempt to detail how aggressive each NFL head coach is. So what about Colts head coach Chuck Pagano, who has drawn much criticism from Colts fans for being too conservative? It turns out that the criticism has some merit, as Pagano ranked 24th out of 33 head coaches in 2014. His aggressiveness number was 0.74 - meaning that less likely than average to go for it. From the 31 to 37 yard line, Pagano went for it zero out of four times. On fourth down and two, Pagano went for it zero out of ten times, while on fourth down and one, Pagano went for it five out of ten times. Overall, Football Outsiders measured 102 different opportunities for Pagano and found that he went for it six times, while the expected amount (based on the average) would have been going for it 8.05 times.
What does this tell us? Well, it tells us what we already knew in that Chuck Pagano isn't a very aggressive coach (though, I will add, that I thought he improved in this area in 2014). Here are a few other observations from the data:
- Firstly, aggressiveness doesn't automatically equal success on the field. In fact, the first two coaches in this metric both finished with losing records, as the Saints' Sean Payton was first and the Bears' Marc Trestman was second.
- Secondly, the number three name on the list was surprising: Detroit's Jim Caldwell was ranked as the third-most aggressive coach in the NFL. Seriously. As for another former Colts coach, Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians finished lower than Pagano, ranking 28th and having an aggressiveness index of 0.60.
Ultimately, this is just another piece to the puzzle, and it doesn't at all mean that Chuck Pagano is a bad coach. I would like to see him be more aggressive, but it's all about being smart while doing so, and aggressiveness doesn't automatically translate to success on the field.