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Frank Reich needs to be at his best for Colts to realize playoff aspirations

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at New York Jets Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Thus far the Indianapolis Colts appear to have backed into the right choice in first-year head coach Frank Reich. Of course we don’t truly know how things would be right now if Josh McDaniels wouldn’t have reneged on the job, but finding anyone who isn’t impressed with what Reich has done to this point is going to be difficult to say the least.

Reich and his Colts currently stand at 4-5 as they prepare for their second AFC South game in as many weeks, and a realistic shot at landing in the postseason if they can take advantage of their remaining schedule.

Combined, the Colts’ opponents record is 25-30 (.455) with the Tennessee Titans and Houston Texans being the only two squads who are currently holding winning records.

Defensively, the Colts are a mixed bag. They’re in the bottom third of the league in yards allowed per game, but are in top half in yards per play allowed. They’re allowing a ton of first downs per game, and have fallen off from their impressive start to the season on third downs.

On the other hand, they continue to make big plays when the team needs them, have been the driving force in a couple of the team’s wins this season, AND they are currently 6th in the NFL allowing only 3.9 rushing yards per attempt. We knew there would be some inconsistency — at a minimum — this season with a new scheme, but you can certainly see that the speed and energy they bring is something that will be fun see the continued construction of in the near future.

Offensively, the Colts sit at sixth in the league in scoring per game (28.9 points per game), are the best third-down team in the NFL, are top-10 in yards per game, and in the top half of the league in yards per play. Andrew Luck is at the top of his game, the running game is showing legitimate improvement in comparison to years past, and the offensive line is considered to be one of the best in the league.

Additionally, Reich’s play design and ability to stay level, and get this roster to completely buy in to what they’re building is already paying dividends. As stated, he’s gotten a very solid start to his career in Indianapolis despite having a very average record right now. But, the real challenge for him will be to see what he can put together in this pivotal second half to the season.

Chuck Pagano obviously caught lightening in a bottle with the drafting of Luck and rode his coattails to three straight postseason berths. The last four seasons, though, one of his largest issues was struggling to get the team to lock anything up in the final eight games of the year.

Between 2014-2017, Pagano went 18-14 in the second half of the season, went 8-5 within the division, and 6 of those 14 losses were by 20 points or more. This is something that Reich must avoid at all costs. I don’t think anyone realistically expects Reich to be 8-0 in his final eight games of the year, but a winning record SHOULD be expected with what they have left to battle.

Earlier this season the Colts lost to the Texans in overtime after spotting them 14 points earlier in the game due to two miscues inside their own 10-yard line. They lost to an Eagles team — who is clearly not to be mistaken with the Super Bowl champion team from a year ago — by only 4 points in their worst offensive yardage output of the season, and lost to the Bengals after a Jack Doyle fumble was returned for a touchdown as the Colts were driving and in control of their own destiny.

You can make several arguments for these losses being understandable in a coach’s first season at the helm. But, he’s no longer a rookie coach in the eyes of anyone in Indianapolis after seeing what he can put together, and these sort of missed opportunities cannot scar the second half of the season if Reich truly wants his first season to be a building block for the future.

Would anyone freak out if they did? Probably not, and they really shouldn’t either. But, Reich will be held to very high standards before you know it, and we’ll be dissecting this season in the near future to see exactly what the Colts have on their hands.

The Colts need to be good within the division, they need to beat the teams they should beat, and they can’t afford to give any wins away if they have any dreams of being a playoff team. I’m in the camp that says that all you have to do is get in. Especially with the high-powered offense that Luck leads, and the potential that we see in the defense from time to time.

If the Colts defense could continue to hold down opponent’s rushing yardage per attempt, tighten up their zones as the season progresses, and can continue to make big plays, there is no reason that Luck and Reich can’t lead this team to the playoffs and beyond. Reich’s coaching ability will be put to the test, and I for one am excited to see him break expectations down the stretch.