Using Trent Richardson Properly
I think I may have figured out the problem with Trent Richardson: the Colts have not yet accepted who he is.
To understand who he is, they first need to grasp who he is not. He is not Arian Foster or Adrian Peterson. Take a look at these Foster highlights from the Texans’ playoff win against Cincinnati last season, or these Peterson highlights from the Vikings’ game against the Panthers a few weeks ago. Both are powerful, explosive backs who find holes between the tackles, hit them hard and burst into the secondary like cannonballs.
Richardson simply isn’t that sort of runner, despite the Colts’ efforts to shoehorn him into a similar role. Here are a few of his best plays: a screen against the Chargers, a 32-yard touchdown run when he was with the Browns and a 15-yard touchdown run with the Browns. On all three plays, Richardson got into space and made quick hesitation cuts that froze defenders.
Whereas Foster is a one-cut dynamo and Peterson might have the best acceleration in the NFL, Richardson’s best asset is his lateral quickness. He’s not the type of back who can blast through an A gap and pick up 40 yards.
That doesn’t mean he can’t be an elite running back. It just means he needs to be used differently. Lateral quickness doesn’t do him much good when he’s slamming into the middle of the line on carry after carry, particularly when the middle of that line consists of a rookie and two below-average players.
Yet of Richardson’s 71 carries with the Colts, 29 have been up the middle, per Pro-Football-Reference.com. Those 29 carries have gained just 79 yards, a 2.72 average.
Donald Brown, Richardson’s backup, is far more similar to Foster and Peterson (though he’s not nearly as good as them). On his 50-yard run in Jacksonville, Brown flashed the decisiveness and burst that make him a useful back. As he showed while carrying 11 times for 23 yards in the Broncos game, however, the whispers that Brown is significantly better than Richardson and ready for a featured role are off-base. He’s far more effective as a change of pace runner. But with his acceleration, he may be better suited to the interior runs that have mostly been going to Richardson.
Richardson’s style, meanwhile, seems to demand a role more like that of Reggie Bush in Detroit or Darren Sproles in New Orleans. Both teams run lots of plays that get the ball in their backs’ hands with some empty field in front of them and a chance to show off their moves.
ESPN’s Jeffri Chadiha wrote Thursday, in the 5,723rd “See? Trent Richardson sucks!” article to grace the Internet, that Richardson “remains the disappointing talent the Browns had the good sense to deal.” Most of the article is the same surface-level junk everyone has been saying, that Richardson has a low per-carry average and is never going to amount to anything. But Chadiha also drops a couple interesting quotes from an anonymous Browns source, who says: “There is a lot to like about Trent. He’s solid, dependable, hard-working. The problem is that he’s not explosive.” The source later adds this: ”I saw him score on a 1-yard touchdown in his first game there (a 27-7 win over San Francisco) and the announcer said that was why the Colts traded for him. And all I could think was that play was right in Trent’s wheelhouse. He’ll make those plays for you all day. But when you need seven yards, he’ll still get you three.”
For the types of runs in which the Colts have been using Richardson, that Browns source is absolutely right. Richardson is going to run for about three yards on most carries up the gut, because he doesn’t have the explosiveness of a Foster or Peterson (or even Brown).
But as he showed on that screen against the Chargers, when given space, Richardson is a nightmare to bring down. He’s strong enough to shed arm tackles and has a devastating juke move.
Moving forward, the Colts would do well to give Richardson more delayed handoffs, runs around the ends, screen passes and dumpoffs, while turning to Brown on more of their beloved interior power runs. Richardson has a long way to go to prove he was worth a first-round pick, but if used well, he could still turn into a top-knotch playmaker.
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