I think if you took a poll of Redskins fans most would say that Jay Gruden is not a very aggressive coach when it comes to going for it on fourth down in unconventional situations. But the numbers would say that those fans are wrong.
As rookie head coach Gruden ranked sixth among the 33 NFL head coaches in 2014 (the Raiders had two) in Football Outsiders’ Aggressiveness Index. In this index, which throws out obvious catch-up situations, Gruden scored a 1.28. A coach with an index of 1.0 is average in terms of going for it on fourth down so Gruden was about 28 percent more likely to try to get a first down on fourth down than the average coach.
It should be noted here that we’re not talking about a huge number of plays. Gruden went for it five times in 94 opportunities. Only one of those plays was memorable. With the score tied at 17 with 3:46 left in the Redskins’ Monday night game in Dallas, Colt McCoy went to Darrel Young for 12 yards on fourth and one at the Dallas 49. The Redskins couldn’t push in the winning score—in a more typical 2014 Redskins moment, a third and one turned into a third and six after a delay of game penalty—but the play allowed them to run off some clock and pin the Cowboys deep for the final series of regulation. Washington won the game in overtime. (You can see all of the plays where the Redskins went for it on fourth down last year here.)
If you did another fan poll I’d wager that they would say that the Eagles’ Chip Kelly was the most aggressive coach in the NFC East. They also would be wrong. Kelly actually ranked 27th in the NFL with an index of 0.65. That made him the least aggressive coach in the division, just behind Jason Garrett of Dallas (25th) and Tom Coughlin of the Giants (26th).
For reference, Sean Payton of the Saints toped the Aggressiveness Index at 2.01 and among coaches who lasted the entire season, Mike Smith of the Falcons was last at 0.21.
As the sample size increases, will Gruden become more or less aggressive on fourth down? It may depend on personnel. If he has confidence in his quarterback and, perhaps more importantly, in his defense and if he has an offensive line that can get some push when there are just a few links of the chain to go on fourth down, he may go for it more often.