Win or lose, Indianapolis Colts coach Frank Reich's aggressiveness on fourth down is here to stay

Be it as an NFL quarterback, offensive coordinator or head coach, Indianapolis Colts coach Frank Reich has always maintained his aggressiveness, and it's clear that's not going to change. Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

INDIANAPOLIS – Indianapolis Colts coach Frank Reich isn’t one to avoid criticism when it comes to his playcalling. There was definitely some directed at him after his fourth-quarter playcalls in their Week 1 loss to Seattle.

Down 21-10, the Colts had the ball fourth-and-2 at Seattle’s 18-yard line. They could have kicked the field goal to make it a one-score game. Reich decided against it because he wanted to try to score a touchdown and get a two-point conversion to make it a three-point game.

In a play that showed up on numerous television highlights and was shown countless times on social media, right tackle Braden Smith got run over by Seahawks defensive end Darrell Taylor, who got the easy sack on Colts quarterback Carson Wentz to end the drive.

After the game, Reich, as he has done just about every time he has been questioned, didn’t shy away from his decision to go for it.

“Once we got under 5 [yards], we just felt like we had a good play,” Reich said. “It didn’t come out the way it was supposed to as far as, we had a check on, and we had a miscommunication on something and didn’t get to where we needed to get to.”

Being aggressive with his playcalling is something Reich talked about as soon as he was hired in the winter of 2018. That’s always been his nature, even going back to his 13-year playing career in the NFL.

The Colts are 15th in the league at fourth-down conversions (54.4%) since Reich became coach in 2018, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The New Orleans Saints are first in the league in that category, converting 66% of their attempts in that same time span. The Colts had their best success on fourth down last season, when they converted 61.5% of their attempts. A large part of that was their ability to bring backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett into the game for short-yardage runs.

Reich showed his aggressive nature of playcalling just four games into his rookie season as a head coach in 2018. Playing the Houston Texans, the Colts went for it on fourth-and-4 from their own 43-yard line in overtime. The Colts failed to convert, giving the Texans a short field to work with to win the game, which they did. Reich said at the time he would do it again, with the only exception being he wouldn’t have called a timeout before going for it on fourth down.

A play like that meant more inside the locker room with his players than it did on the football field for the Colts that day.

Reich says he can handle whatever results come his way with his fourth-down playcalls, which is why he doesn’t plan to change his approach. He meets with his analytics staff members each week to go over the play sheet for their upcoming game. There’s an emphasis on fourth-down plays on the sheet.

“I’m always evaluating everything -- the call, the execution of it, what they did. Sometimes it’s just the question of they have a player that just makes a [play],” Reich said.

He doesn't need to answer many questions about failing to convert on fourth down if the Colts win. That was the case in a game against Tennessee last season, when the Colts failed to convert a pair of fourth downs in the first half. Those plays weren’t put under the microscope as much because Indianapolis beat Tennessee 34-17.

On the other hand, there was the playoff game against Buffalo when the Colts had the ball fourth-and-goal at the Bills' 4-yard line. Reich, being Reich, kept the offense on the field in an attempt to take a 17-7 lead on the road. Quarterback Philip Rivers threw an incomplete pass and the Bills drove the length of the field to score a touchdown that turned what had been a 10-7 deficit into a 14-10 lead. Buffalo won that game 27-24.

Reich didn't change his playcalling earlier in his career, he didn't change last season, and he's definitely not going to change now.

“I wouldn’t call it second-guessing,” Reich said. “If you don’t get something done, if you don’t get it done, it’s never good enough. So, you can always do better. So when we don’t convert, you’ve got to look at everything and you start by looking at yourself.”