Is Frank Reich getting unfair blame for game plan vs Bucs?

Nov 21, 2021; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich looks on against the Buffalo Bills during the second half at Highmark Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 21, 2021; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich looks on against the Buffalo Bills during the second half at Highmark Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports /

Many feel that head coach Frank Reich is to blame for the Colts loss to the Buccaneers.

The Indianapolis Colts lost a very close game in Week 12 to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, dropping them to 6-6. After coming up short 38-31, there were a number of directions fans started to point the finger of blame. Some blamed the referees for some very questionable officiating, but others blamed Indianapolis’ head coach.

Frank Reich was under a lot of scrutiny following the game due to his offensive game plan. Just a week after Jonathan Taylor announced himself as an MVP candidate, Reich decided to employ a pass-heavy attack against the Buccaneers and since this resulted in a Colts’ loss, fans were not happy.

Over Indianapolis’ first 10 possessions, Taylor only had eight carries which produced just 25 yards. Sure, they were facing the No. 1 rushing defense in the NFL, but they still could have got it to him a little more right? Fans think so. Especially since the Colts built a 10-point lead heading into the second half and two of the critical mistakes that allowed Tampa back into the game came from passing plays.

It also doesn’t help Reich’s case that once Indy actually committed to the run on their last full drive, Taylor carried the ball eight times for 58 yards and scored the game-tying touchdown. That likely left many viewers throwing their hands to the sky as they proclaimed “that’s what we should’ve been doing!”

Since that isn’t what Indianapolis did, and the Colts lost, it makes Reich an easy target to place the blame, after all, he is the man who decides how much opportunity the best running back in the NFL gets.

Despite that being the case, Reich nor his pass-heavy game plan is the reason Indianapolis lost this game and it’s a bit unfair to put that blame on him after the Colts performance on Sunday.

Frank Reich and his game plan isn’t the reason the Colts loss

Indianapolis scored 31 points on Sunday and also had five turnovers, so they weren’t lacking offensive production. Carson Wentz even had a really good day, with the exception of two plays, completing 27-of-44 passes for 306 yards and three touchdowns. So it’s not like Reich just negated the run for a less fruitful option.

The pass game is what was working against Tampa, they’ve had a vulnerable secondary all season. The Colts scored 24 points in the first half because of their pass game, and they were also moving the ball in the second half because of the passing attack.

It’s understood that Taylor is the best running back in the NFL, but that alone doesn’t mean that he should just get a guaranteed carry every play. It’s a ton of factors that go into the decision making of when exactly Taylor, or any back, gets the ball.

Reich actually opened up about that with a very transparent answer to media when asked about Taylor’s lack of carries. He expressed how, although Taylor wasn’t actually carrying the ball, they were calling plays to him. The plays just happened to be RPOs or Run-Pass-Options, which means Wentz gets to make the split-second  decision based on the look the defense presents.

The success that Wentz and the Indy offense had on Sunday shows that he often made the right decision. An elite running back like Taylor doesn’t just have to carry the ball to impact the offense, sometimes the threat of him alone does it.

So Taylor was a focal point of Reich’s game plan, and it was a game plan that gave the Colts a good chance to win. It was the mistakes of players, however, that compromised their chances.

Colts’ players, not Reich, are the reason they lost

The things that went wrong in this game for Indianapolis were the five turnovers. Fans can argue that if Indy just ran the ball we wouldn’t have to worry about sack strips or ill-advised interceptions, but it’s not really that simple. Teams have to do what is working best while also avoiding risk.

Offensively, Reich set the team up to do what was working best for them on Sunday, it was the players who did a poor job avoiding risk. Whether it was Eric Fisher giving up a strip-sack or Nyheim Hines muffing a punt, the mistakes on the field are what cost the Colts this game.

Additionally, Indy lost this game after scoring 31 points, so the defense has a lot of questions to answer as well. Yes, the turnovers didn’t help, but they aren’t absolved of blame after allowing 38 points.

That is all said to say, Reich carries a level of blame for the loss simply because he is the head coach, but if the at-fault parties were ranked, Reich’s offensive game plan shouldn’t be near the top of the list.