Let’s cut the nonsense and stop comparing Frank Reich’s aggressiveness to fourth-down blunders by other coaches.
In their first-round playoff matchup against Buffalo, the Indianapolis Colts were ultimately the victims of their own demise, failing to capitalize on multiple opportunities to impose their will on the scoreboard in the first half.
The sequence most fans have pointed to as a huge turning point came near the end of the second quarter when the Colts turned the ball over on downs after failing to punch in a touchdown on multiple attempts from inside the five-yard line that would’ve seen them take a 17-7 lead with a converted extra point.
On third down from the one-yard line, Indy called a toss play to Jonathan Taylor that was blown up and lost two yards. Instead of playing it safe and taking the three points, they decided to go for it and Philip Rivers missed what turned out to be an open Michael Pittman Jr. in the back corner of the end zone. The Bills then drove 97 yards to score a touchdown with seconds left in the half. What should’ve been 13-7 Colts was now 14-10 Bills.
After the Colts ended up losing by three points, head coach Frank Reich proceeded to get eviscerated for being too aggressive when he didn’t need to be. Agree with it or not, the discourse is absolutely appropriate. What isn’t, however, is comparing his hunger for points to the conservative approach enforced by the likes of Mike Tomlin and Mike Vrabel that same weekend.
In a recent article detailing why Reich will never change his aggressive approach, Joel A. Erickson of the Indy Star compared his blunder to that of Tomlin and Vrabel, whose maddening decisions to punt on fourth and short ultimately cost their teams’ a chance at advancing beyond the first round.
"“Tennessee’s Mike Vrabel and Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin were excoriated for punting in fourth-and-short situations when the analytics indicated they should have gone for the first down, the way Reich might have gone for it if he had been in their shoes. Vrabel and Tomlin were criticized deeply for being far too conservative; Reich took heat for being too aggressive.”"
We certainly understand where Erickson is coming from, but this doesn’t come close to qualifying as an apples-to-apples comparison. For starters, their respective decisions came at entirely different points in the game. Reich made the decision to look to go up double digits in a spot where the Colts were already winning and didn’t need to be aggressive. They already had the momentum, held the Bills to just seven points, and had a chance to extend their lead to six points.
Tomlin and Vrabel, meanwhile, were conservative when they should have been pushing the envelope to score points while they were trailing late. In the former’s case, Cleveland responded with a Nick Chubb 40-yard receiving touchdown after Pittsburgh punted on fourth down with a chance to make it a one-score game at the start of the fourth quarter and never looked back.
In the latter’s case, the Ravens responded with a field goal to make the score 20-13 with less than five minutes remaining in regulation after Tennessee punted on fourth and two from Baltimore’s 40-yard line (!). After getting the ball back with a chance to tie the game or take the lead with a two-point conversion, Ryan Tannehill tossed an interception that iced the game.
Vrabel also had a situation midway through the third quarter where he punted on fourth and two from his own 44-yard line while trailing by seven. He just got lucky the Ravens failed to punish him for that gaffe.
Again, fans are justified in taking Reich to task for pressing the issue in a position that didn’t call for it. On the other hand, fans are justified in defending it if they felt it was the right call! But please don’t compare his analytical-driven coaching style to that of the approaches by Tomlin and Vrabel because those couldn’t be less relative.