In hindsight, Frank Reich stands by fourth-and-1 decisions: not ‘on the edge of crazy’

JACKSONVILLE, FL - DECEMBER 02: Head coach Frank Reich and Jacoby Brissett #7 of the Indianapolis Colts wait on the field during their game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field on December 2, 2018 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – So, you think Frank Reich was a tad too aggressive, maybe even reckless, in Sunday’s loss at Jacksonville that severely damaged the Indianapolis Colts’ postseason push?

Consider this: every bit of information on his game-plan sheet insisted he should have been even more aggressive.

Heavily impacting the Colts’ 6-0 loss to the Jaguars that snapped a five-game winning streak were three failed fourth-and-1 situations. The first two came in the second quarter of a scoreless game and saw Reich keep his All-World kicker, Adam Vinatieri, next to him on the sideline.

Brace yourself. Reich insisted Monday “there were probably two or three times in that game, believe it or not . . .’’ that his trusted, extensive chart told him to be even more forceful.

On the Colts’ second drive of the game, they faced a fourth-and-1 at their own 47-yard line. Andrew Luck hurried the offense to the line of scrimmage. He positioned himself behind center Evan Boehm, barked the cadence, moved players around. He barked some more.

When the Jaguars didn’t flinch, Luck called timeout and the offense was replaced by the punt team.

That’s not what Reich’s chart told him to do.

“That was a ‘go’ and I didn’t go for it,’’ he said. “It was a gut instinct just to punt it based on the flow of the game at that point.

“I’m not always going with the chart all the time.’’

Just most of the time.

While it might appear Reich is making snap judgments during the course of a game, everything has been considered, analyzed and gone over in the days leading up to the game. Every Friday, he sits down with the team’s analytics experts – John Park, the manager of football research and strategy, and George Li, the senior football strategy analyst/game management – and they study and discuss the chart that will guide his every decision in the upcoming game.

What adjustments need to be made for the Colts’ offense, and the opponent’s? Is the opponent strong on offense, or defense-driven? Will weather be a factor? Is the game expected to be high-scoring, or will points come at a premium?

While focusing on the Colts and the opponent, Park and Li also have broken down every NFL game from the previous week.

“What we do very methodically and systematically (is) go through every single scenario from the week before in the NFL and what the charts would say,’’ Reich said. “We play out every scenario like it was us. We talk through it, ‘OK, what are we doing here? The chart says this. Are we going for it? Why? Do we feel good about it? What make us feel good about it.’’’

The objective: be prepared for anything, everything.

Then, it’s up to Reich to use his vast experience – more than a quarter-century in the NFL as a player and coach – to make the appropriate decision when, for instance, the Colts face a fourth-and-goal at the Jacksonville 1-yard line early in the second quarter.

Experience, he insisted, isn’t code “for I know I’m always right. That’s code for I’m making the best decision that I think is in the best interest of the team to win the game, and nothing is done haphazardly.

“This is preparation and thought and detail that go into it and then making the call at the right time. And it’s not robotic. It seems like it is a spur-of-the-moment decision, but many times those spur-of-the-moment decisions aren’t as spur-of-the-moment as they appear. You’ve replayed those scenarios.’’

In hindsight and with so much information at his disposal, Reich was steadfast with his decisions to keep the Luck on the field for the three fourth-and-1 situations: at the Jacksonville 1- and 31-yard lines in the second quarter, and, obviously, at the 19-yard line with 2:38 remaining and the Colts trailing 6-0.

“I feel very strongly those were the right decisions,’’ he said. “Good football people disagree and will disagree.

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

The Colts were denied on the first fourth-and-1 when Luck’s shovel pass to rookie running back Jordan Wilkins was stopped just short of the goal line. Reich and Sirianni had disclosed that exact scenario prior to the game.

“That was the play we believed in,’’ he said. “That was the play we practiced a lot. We just didn’t get it done.’’

Jacksonville surprised the Colts with an unexpected defensive alignment.

“It was a good chess move. They out-coached me on that,’’ Reich said. “They played a coverage they had not shown in that situation.’’

His biggest regret was the play call on the second failed fourth-and-1 at the Jacksonville 31 midway through the second quarter, and the reverse with Eric Ebron that was blown up by Myles Jack and Telvin Smith. It was a high-risk/reward call.

“I had envisioned that play breaking out to not just a first down, but possibly a 20- or 30-yard gain,’’ Reich said. “If I had those three to look over again, that would be the one that I question myself the most on.

“Just run it up the middle. We had a half-a-yard. Run a quarterback sneak or just run a dive play up the middle and get the half-yard. I took the risk for the big play and I was wrong.’’

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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