It's been awhile since the Indianapolis Colts had a head-coaching advantage in a game-by-game basis. Shane Steichen is still a rookie head coach and there's only been three weeks of play thus far, however, dividends are being paid thanks to his big brain.
The name of the game is to score points, and although Shane Steichen can certainly muster up an efficient offensive output, he's now shown twice in three weeks that he's going to do whatever he can to gain an advantage.
Shane Steichen’s time management manipulation
Steichen first put his bamboozle ability to the test in a Week 2 matchup against the Houston Texans. This moment in particular proved to pay dividends later on as the Colts were on the cusp of giving up a 21-point fourth-quarter lead.
With just over six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, the Colts were up 31-21 with a 4th-&-1 just before midfield looming. NFL offenses will typically punt the ball in that scenario with no questions asked, except Steichen wasn't letting (fellow rookie head coach) DeMeco Ryans get the ball back unscathed.
Steichen initially brought out the punt unit but quickly after getting set, substituted his offense for what appeared to be a go-for-it call. You typically see teams send out their offenses in scenarios like this, however the initial punt look threw Ryans & Co. for a loop and a Texans timeout followed.
Had Steichen followed suit with the traditional way of going about that fourth down play, Houston would've been in prime position for the score, three-and-out whilst strategically calling timeouts for maximum time, and a subsequent field goal or touchdown to either tie or win the game. He wanted more than to just trust his defense. Instead of succumbing to historical tendencies, Steichen went full Bill Belichick mode to gain a competitive edge.
The game within the game
Against the Ravens, Steichen played the game the way football purists want to see it be played. Not only did he follow up his antics from a week prior, but he went even further in his manipulative tactics.
Steichen put on a top-tier hoodwinking display midway through the battle for the Colts this past Sunday. Instead of playing the timeout game in the fourth quarter, Steichen pulled from his duffle bag of tricks late in the second quarter and would end up doubling down after another succesful timeout heist.
The best-case scenario happens for Shane Steichen as John Harbaugh bites on the initial trickery and forks over a timeout. Regardless if the Colts go for it and score, just a little over three minutes would remain, therefore the 2-minute warning would serve as the Ravens' lost timeout.
So why go through all the trouble to essentially take one of the four timeouts away, especially when we're talking about the first half? It's because Shane Steichen plays the game within the game and is always looking for an advantage, à la Bill Belichick.
Football may have four quarters but it's always been a game of two halves and Shane Steichen has shrewdly proven that philosophy after only three games. He has already proven himself as a QB whisperer and dynamic playcaller, and now he's providing shades of an NFL legend early on.