I promise you that I was not prepared to make Cleveland the focus of a film study segment for two weeks in a row, after looking at Brandon Weeden’s interceptions last week. I was thinking about looking at the Bears final drive against the Vikings. Then the Trent Richardson trade happened.
So here we are. I went and looked at every running play that Richardson was involved in, as well as every running play involving Vick Ballard, Ahmad Bradshaw, and Donald Brown. The Colts running backs are averaging 4.38 yards per rush this year, while Richardson is coming in at 3.39 yards per carry, almost a yard lower.
What is the difference? I mean, it would make no sense that the Colts would want to get a replaceable back who is worse than what they have. The perception is that the Colts have just as bad a run blocking group as the Browns. The numbers (taken from watching the plays) show that whether it is the presence of Luck, the offensive linemen, the scheme, or how aggressive the run defenders are, Richardson had it a lot worse off than the Colts backs.
Here is a chart showing where first clear contact occurred for both the Colts backs and Richardson on every run. I say clear contact because there are a few where maybe the back was brushed lightly by a defender who was walled off by the blocker and got a fingertip, and I couldn’t tell. Stiff arms, diving attempts where the defender gets a leg, full body takedowns are all included. Not every angle is the same, but I did my best to record where the contact occurred relative to the snap.
Richardson only got cleanly to four yards or more past the line of scrimmage 3 of 31 times. Colts running backs were more than twice as likely to achieve that, 10 of 42 times.
Richardson was first touched at or behind the line of scrimmage 58% of the time (18 of 31). For Bradshaw, Ballard, and Brown, that number was 26% of the time (11 of 42). A couple of years ago, in regard to the Hall of Fame presentation for Floyd Little that noted he was first touched behind the line 30% of the time. I believe we now have precedent for arguing that Richardson has turned in a Hall of Fame performance.
As a result, Richardson was averaging a paltry 0.39 yards before first contact, and 3.00 yards after first contact. The Colts backs are at 2.14 yards before first contact on average, and 2.24 yards after contact. That probably undersells the difference, because more often the Colts backs are making contact with more speed and momentum carrying them, so they get 2 yards on a run while not really breaking a tackle at all. More of Richardson’s contact is coming early.
To demonstrate, here are some carries where Richardson and the Colts backs gained the same yards, to show how it looks differently and an example of how we arrive at those numbers.
Here is a Richardson five yard run:
Here is a Colts five yard run, by Bradshaw:
Here is a Richardson seven yard run:
Here is an example of a seven yard run by the Colts, in this case Ballard against the Raiders:
Finally, here is Richardson’s longest run of the year:
Here is a similar length run from the Colts, from Bradshaw, also going against the Dolphins on an counter run:
Finally, to close out the Richardson era in Cleveland, here he is on the final run. This is a three yard gain. As you can see by the offensive lineman on his knees right where he is running, Richardson did well to gain that with Haloti Ngata staring right at him. After this play, with the Browns trailing only 7-6, Richardson never had another run as Cleveland passed it 18 straight times, for 2 sacks, 6 completions, and less than three yards a play. I think this play adequately sums up the Richardson era in Cleveland.
Richardson has been criticized for his low yards per carry. In 2013, at least, a replacement level back would have done much worse behind that line. Yeah, his long is only ten yards. How many reserves would have gotten that much on that play?
I crowd sourced a Twitter question, asking people to guess Richardson’s yards per carry this year as a Colt. Excluding parody accounts, the average yards per carry from my wisdom of the crowds was 4.3. I’ll go a bit higher than that and say 4.5 yards per carry, playing with Andrew Luck in Indianapolis. That assumes he hasn’t gotten gun shy about getting hit behind the line, and will know what to do if he can get past the line of scrimmage.