Colts move forward with Reich’s aggressive approach

Head coach Frank Reich of the Indianapolis Colts watches his team from the sidelines in the game against the Tennessee Titans in the fourth quarter at Lucas Oil Stadium on November 18, 2018 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – In the Mulligan NFL, the Indianapolis Colts could be sitting pretty and the Houston Texans might be trying to decide which player to target with a top-3 pick in next April’s draft.

Given a do-over or two, and with a less aggressive mindset, we can easily argue the Colts are 7-4-1 and a half-step ahead of the 7-5 Baltimore Ravens in pursuit of the second AFC wild-card playoff spot.

The Texans? They probably aren’t the NFL’s hottest team and certainly wouldn’t be taking a franchise-record nine-game winning streak into Sunday’s rematch with the Colts in Houston.

Bear with us and here’s a disclaimer: As non-risk taking as we generally are by nature, we were OK with Frank Reich’s decisions that have us discussing what we’re about to discuss.

Remember Sept. 30 at Lucas Oil Stadium? Remember the Colts’ failed fourth-and-4 from their own 43-yard line with 27 seconds remaining in overtime in a 34-all game? Remember the Texans capitalizing immediately on Reich’s bold decision? A 24-yard Deshaun Watson-to-DeAndre Hopkins completion followed by Ka’imi Fairbairn’s 37-yard field goal as time expired resuscitated the Texans and opened Reich to criticism.

“We’re not playing to tie,’’ he said after the game. “We’re going for that 10 times out of 10.

“That’s just the way it’s got to roll.’’

Since then, it’s been the Texans doing the rolling.

“We had been 0-3 obviously and trying to find a way to get a win any way we could and we found a way,’’ said J.J. Watt. “It wasn’t very conventional.’’

Remember Sunday’s impotent loss at Jacksonville? The Colts had been 28-0 with Andrew Luck under center and allowing 18 or fewer points. Their defense limited the Jaguars to two field goals and 211 total yards.

They lost 6-0, in large part because of three failed fourth-and-1 calls. It began early: fourth-and-goal at the 1 in the second quarter. Rather than have Adam Vinatieri knock down a point-blank field goal and take a 3-0 lead, Reich went for it. The Colts were denied when Luck’s shovel pass to Jordan Wilkins failed to reach the end zone.

In hindsight, scoring any points early might have been enough against the Cody Kessler-led Jaguars.

Given the benefit of that hindsight, a tie against the Texans and an unsightly win at Jacksonville would have the Colts in prime position as December unfolds and the postseason nears.

We’re not talking about . . .

If Jack Doyle hadn’t fumbled in the opener at Cincinnati.

Or . . .

If Le’Raven Clark hadn’t been beaten by Derek Barnett on fourth-and-3 at the Philly 4-yard line.

We’re talking about being more conventional (first meeting with Houston) and taking points when they’re staring you in the face (Jacksonville).

Ask around the Colts’ locker room, and there’s an undeniable consensus. While it’s unrealistic to expect a player to openly question – OK, criticize – his coach’s decision, there hasn’t been even a sniff of second-guessing, on or off the record.

“We need that,’’ Eric Ebron said when asked about Reich’s aggressive streak following the Jacksonville loss. “That lets you know how much trust they have in us.’’

“You play this game to win and he’s going to coach the game to win,’’ Luck said, conceding the offense didn’t properly execute the failed fourth-and-4 against the Texans in week 4. “That gave us a glimpse into how he coaches and his approach.

“We appreciate that. We want to go out there and win the game and he gives us a chance to do that.’’

Rookie linebacker Darius Leonard was more emphatic when asked about Reich’s aggressive style.

“Love it,’’ he said. “I love his mentality. He’s a competitor, just like me. I like to compete in absolutely everything that I do and you see that with coach.

“On fourth down, he believes in his guys that they’re going to get it. I love his competitive nature and I just hope we continue to do the same thing.’’

Even when the so-called gambles blow up in his face? Following Sunday’s 0-for-3 performance against the Jaguars, the Colts are 6-for-14 (42.9 percent) on converting fourth downs. That percentage is tied for the fifth-worst in the league.

“In life sometimes things don’t work,’’ Leonard said. “But you keep fighting. You’re never out of the fight.

“Every fourth down he goes for I’m standing on the sideline cheering. I love it, I really do.’’

Even when, looking back, a tie against the Texans might impact the team reaching the postseason?

“Who plays a game to tie?’’ Leonard said. “You go for the win each time. You’re judged by wins and losses, not ties. I love it when we go for the win.

“You play all that game to end in a tie? No. When you’re in a one-on-one fight, you don’t want a draw. You go for the win.’’