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Was Colts’ Shane Steichen too aggressive on fourth down?

The new coach for the Colts wasn’t shying away from an aggressive approach on Sunday. Did it cost his team a victory?

Jacksonville Jaguars v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

The Indianapolis Colts opened the season at home against the Jacksonville Jaguars. It was a closely contested battle until about the last four minutes when the Jags pulled away by facing a gassed Colts’ defense. Coach Shane Steichen left his mark on his first game as an NFL head coach by being very aggressive on fourth down.

The Colts finished the day just 1-of-5 on fourth-down conversions — the five attempts tied the New York Giants for the most — which was an extension of their futility in conversions overall.

The first failed attempt came with twelve minutes left in the second quarter. The Colts found themselves at the Jaguars sixteen yard line after intercepting Trevor Lawrence on a tipped pass. The Colts hurried to the line on a fourth and one and were stuffed on an Anthony Richardson sneak.

Back in Jacksonville territory with the score still knotted at seven all, the Colts went for a fourth and four from Jacksonville’s forty-two. The Colts decided not to trot out kicker Matt Gay as the pass to Michael Pittman Jr. fell incomplete. The Jaguars scored seven with a short field.

Back again at the forty-two of Jacksonville, the Colts turned the ball over on downs as Deon Jackson couldn’t convert as he fumbled the ball and a chance for more points. Luckily, the Colts scored two plays later on a strip sack that was returned for a touchdown.

These three failed conversions all occurred in either a tie game or when the Colts were trailing by only three points. Taking the points from the sixteen or at least pinning the Jaguars deep from the forty-two might have changed the final outcome.

With that said, can you blame Steichen for being aggressive? Maybe you can because you think the team missed out on points. Maybe you can because you think he shouldn’t have put his rookie quarterback in that many situations to convert. Maybe you can because you think the play calls left much to be desired or were executed poorly.

All of that can be true. It is also true that the Colts were underdogs coming into the game, having to face the division champs. The roster is devoid of talent and experience in many areas so applying continued pressure in the hopes of catching a break may have always been the strategy. The run game was atrocious to non-existent with the backs gaining twenty-five yards. Finally, Steichen didn’t fully open up the playbook to help Richardson ease in and avoid major mistakes. Dinks and dunks down the field make scoring drives more challenging. Going for it when you have a chance, makes some sense.

The fourth downs are magnified because they didn’t work. Coaches are either geniuses or fools. If half of them worked and led to touchdowns, the title of this article would be different. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case, so the decisions are up for debate instead of praise.

Expect more aggression this year. This team is growing and isn’t expected to be great. Look for Steichen to continue to pick his spots to allow his team the best opportunity to compete.