You can be a good, aggressive minded coach and I like what Reich has done for the most part with the Colts this season, but there are many instances where being overly aggressive is not the right move. That was on display against the Jaguars.
In the first half, Reich was faced with two 4th and 1 situations and decided to go for them in both instances. While there was definitely a good argument to go for it on the 1-yard line, the play call they decided to use was dumb. The shovel pass had a nice run as a 4th down call for a couple of years, but in recent times, it’s been shut down by most defenses around the league in those situations. It also isn’t effective when a team has used it before in the season, which the Colts have done.
I’ve also never been a fan of running 4 yards to get 1 yard. The Patriots are one of the most successful teams in the NFL every yard on 4th and 1 and their most frequent play is the QB sneak. If you have a yard, don’t make your life more difficult by having to run a few yards to move 1 yard upfield. So you can argue both ways on the decision, but the play call was poor.
Later in the first half, the Colts were once again faced with a 4th and 1 situation, but this time they were on the 32 yard line of the Jaguars. Considering the Colts were on the road, against an extremely talented and strong defense and were also up against a very weak offense with their backup quarterback and running back that struggles to put up points, the Colts should’ve just taken the points and moved on. They went for it on 4th down and called a terrible tight end reverse play with Eric Ebron, who had to run 9 yards to get 1 yard. He was immediately stopped by the strong Jaguars secondary who ripped through all the blocks of the receivers (who are all undersized compared to the Jaguars secondary) and stopped Ebron for a big loss. This is another situation where it makes no sense to run several yards to get 1 yard. It also didn’t make sense to go for it.
It’s important to understand context when deciding to go for it. As mentioned earlier, the Colts were playing the Jaguars, who were playing with a backup quarterback, running back, tight end, and 3 backup offensive linemen. The Jaguars are the third worst offense in the NFL, averaging just under 17 points per game this season. If the Colts were playing the Chiefs or the Rams and scoring touchdowns almost every time you touch the ball is a must, then you have an argument to be extremely aggressive, but when you’re playing a weak offense with many backups, you take the points and work from there.
The Jaguars averaged 2.9 yards per carry and 6.2 yards per attempt. They had 229 yards of total offense and averaged 4.5 yards per play. The Colts defense did their job against a poor offense. This was evident the entire game. Not understanding the context was a massive issue and it affected Reich’s play calling and decision-making.
Late in the 4th quarter, the Colts were down by 6 and driving in Jaguars territory. They were once again faced with a 4th and 1 in Vinatieri field goal range. Frank Reich messed up badly in this situation. Their 3rd down play ended with 3:05 left on the clock. Instead of immediately taking a timeout, Reich proceeded to waste 30 seconds before using his timeout. Those 30 seconds proved crucial on the final Colts drive of the game, which ran out of time. Not only did Reich mess it up, but he decided to call another horrendous play.
Now, before I discuss the play, the decision to go for it was justified. While there are strong arguments for kicking the field goal or for going for it, the play call that was ensued was pitiful.
On that fourth down play, the Colts called a play action pass against a team that was clearly playing tight man coverage against every eligible receiver and showing a heavy blitz (from a jet look). The defense didn’t bite on the fake, an unblocked blitzing defender crashed hard and sacked Luck within seconds. Luck hesitated for a second because his primary receiving option was covered and that’s all the defender needed to make a play. Reich overthought it and made another poor decision with the play-call.
While the play calling in the crucial fourth down were brutal, the play calling throughout the entire game was poor, especially in the 2nd half. The receivers were not getting open down the field versus the stout Jaguars secondary, but Reich refused to adjust his play calling. Instead of changing things in favour of a “dink and dunk” style that emphasizes quick, rhythmic passes that gets the ball into the hands of the receivers quickly, he decided to keep going with a more vertical passing attack.
Usually, I don’t favour a horizontal passing attack with quick, short passes, but in this scenario, it was the only one that made sense. The Jaguars secondary gave the Colts the underneath passes, so the cushion was there. You have shifty receivers in TY Hilton and Nyheim Hines (who sometimes lines up at receiver) and they weren’t utilized properly.
The beauty of this type of attack is once it’s developed, the Colts will get more opportunities to throw the ball downfield. Nevertheless, the Colts sticking with a poor vertical attack was like watching a 5 year old trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.
Don’t get me wrong, Reich has done a fantastic job this season turning around the offense, getting Andrew Luck’s career back on track in a big way and I personally love his aggressive nature. But if we’re going to marvel over his great performances, then he deserves the same amount of flack when he delivers a blunder. The Jaguars game was a blunder.