Indianapolis Colts: Fourth-Down Conservatism Proves Costly on Monday Night Football

In a new post over at The Farm Club, I look at the Colts’ conservative coaching decisions on Monday Night, and whether the staff should have been more aggressive.

It was a mistake-filled performance for the Colts on Monday night, featuring untimely drops and bad defense, as San Diego prevailed 19-9.

The blame for the loss has to extend past the players, though, as the coaching staff mishandled a number of key fourth-down situations, including two decisions to punt instead of allowing the offense to try to convert on fourth and short.

Before looking at specific instances, looking at the game broadly, the decision to trust the Indianapolis defense over the offense is highly questionable. San Diego spent the game gaining consistent yardage against the Colts defense, even though they may not have picked up many “big plays.”

The Chargers gained 5.2 yards per play on Monday Night, which is actually below the league average. However, their high offensive success rate is indicative of a team that was routinely gaining chunks of positive yardage (success rate is the percentage of plays yielding positive expected points; see Advanced NFL Stats for more).

Phillip Rivers posted a 50% success rate and the Chargers running game had a 45.7% success rate, according to Advanced NFL Stats (to put these figures into context,Chicago’s 50% pass SR is eighth in the league and Seattle’s 45.5% run SR is third).

This helped San Diego pick up 24 first downs over the course of the game, and that figure combined with a 50% third-down conversion rate helped the Chargers keep possession for over 38 minutes.

With the Chargers coming into the game with the league’s second best offense* and the Colts holding the league’s 17th ranked defense, all this really should not have been a surprise. Also, given the Chargers had the NFL’s worst defense, while the Colts had the league’s fourth best, the decision to be passive on fourth downs is questionable at best (*offensive ranks in terms of Football Outsider’s DVOA metric).

With all that said, let’s take a look at some examples of this fourth-down passivity.

Click here to read the full article.

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