INDIANAPOLIS – In three seasons with three different starting quarterbacks, the Colts have gone 28-20 with Frank Reich as their head coach.
That’s a very solid mark.
The .583 win percentage has Reich currently 4th on the Colts all-time list, behind Tony Dungy, Don Shula and Don McCafferty. Reich has made the playoffs in 2 of his 3 seasons as head coach, going 1-2 in the postseason.
Chris Ballard gushes over the job his head coach has done.
“I’ll say this, he’s really special,” Ballard said of Reich at the close of the 2020 season. “I don’t think anyone should take Frank Reich for granted. Not only is he a really good man and representative of the city of Indianapolis, he’s extremely intelligent and smart and a special leader as a coach. I’ll never take a day for granted having him as a partner. He’s really special.
“As far things we both can improve on, those are internal things we talk about.”
Let’s take a closer look at Reich’s first three seasons as the head coach of the Colts:
-Offensive Game Plan: Overall, the Colts do often have a schematic advantage over their opponent early in games. While striving for more second-half consistency is something to work on, the Colts were tremendous this season in getting off to quick starts offensively. Reich’s scripted portion of the game plan deserves credit for this. The Colts finished 2020 ranked 11th in the NFL in percentage of drives scored on. The Colts led the league in fewest three-and-outs this year and achieved two of the biggest off-season goals they had—creating more big plays + bringing down the turnover number. That’s not easy to do. Reich’s offense struck a nice chord with its balance and sprinkled in some tempo that helped the unit achieve pretty good success.
–Quarterbacks Excelling: A trend under Reich, no matter who is under center, is the quarterback reaching some heights that they hadn’t previously in their careers. It was Andrew Luck in 2018 with a career-high in completion percentage and passer rating. It was the touchdown/interception rate for Jacoby Brissett in 2019 (18 TDs vs. 6 INTs). And it was 39-year-old Philip Rivers in 2020 walking into a new building and immediately having one of his most efficient seasons in a long time, while really limiting his turnover numbers. With three different style QBs, Reich has done well in tailoring strengths to the overall unit.
–Team Buying In: This was a beyond chaotic season for the 32 NFL teams. And Reich deserves major credit for keeping his team focused and believing on the goal of making the playoffs. The Colts achieved their first goal in 2020 (albeit with the NFL expanding the postseason). Following a season-opening loss to the worst team in the NFL, things could have derailed a bit. But a trend under Reich teams is the Colts usually respond in a necessary manner. Amidst all the COVID layers that this season had, Reich’s even keel temperament of handling the business facing him in that moment was needed for the Colts to buy in and believe.
–Situational Football: Easily the biggest knock on Reich and the offensive staff in 2020 comes from how poor the offense was situationally. After finishing the 2019 season 12th in third-down efficiency and 6th in the red zone, the Colts saw those numbers drop to 22nd on third down and 17th in the red zone in 2020. It was a major downfall, considering they had a far more efficient quarterback playing for them. The amount of prep that goes into third down/red zone work in meeting rooms and on the practice field is immense each week, so the offensive staff takes on a brunt of the blame for the issues in this area. The Colts also were penalized too much in 2020, compared to leading the league in this category in 2019.
–Playoff Management: When you play in the postseason, where the margin for errors shrinks, things are scrutinized even more. While Frank Reich, the offensive game planner, had a lot of success against the Bills, his overall management in two key spots were crippling to the Colts pulling off the upset. We talked about the red zone above and Reich’s decision late in the first half to run a third-and-goal pitch to Jonathan Taylor, thus exposing a seldom used wide receiver to block a 260-pound Bills defensive lineman, ran the risk of a big negative play on the goal line. Then in the second half, Reich inexplicably challenged a play that had no business being challenged. It cost the Colts a precious timeout. With the offense having to take another TO following a first down later in the third, the Colts ended the game lacking urgency on the final drive, and without the use of needed timeouts. Again, when you get into one and done football, and the competition rises, your head coach has to be better when it comes to handling all the management situations that come up in a 60-minute football game. Aggression is more than okay (and Ballard likes that about Reich), but making sure you are putting your players/team in as favorable situations as possible, has to be thought first and foremost.
–Division Prowess: This is something that the Colts weren’t achieving in the years before Reich arrived as head coach in 2018, and it has continued. In the last 6 years, the Colts have not won the AFC South, with the other three teams in the division all holding that crown at least once. It’s not like the Colts have been awful in the division (they are 11-7 in the AFC South under Reich), but it’s been consecutive home defeats to the Titans and the unexplainable losses in Jacksonville (0-3 in Jacksonville under Reich) that has led to the Colts missing out on capturing the division. While the Colts have still made the playoffs in 2 of these 3 seasons, the odds of them getting on a run are severely diminished by having to play on the road in the Wild Card round. Before the Buccaneers this year, no team that played on Wild Card weekend (as a home or road team) made the Super Bowl in the previous 7 years. For the Colts to have a more realistic chance at that January run, the first step of winning the AFC South again needs to happen.