It's been nearly two months since the Colts sent their 2014 first-round pick to Cleveland in exchange for running back Trent Richardson, the third-overall pick in the 2012 draft. In the eight games since, Richardson has 96 carries for 272 yards, which works out to 2.8 yards per carry. That's good for 31st in the league among backs with at least 95 carries. He's also 31st, according to Football Outsiders' RB efficiency metric.
It was more of the same Thursday night against the Titans. Richardson had eight carries for 22 yards while Donald Brown had 14 carries for 80 yards behind the very same offensive line.
So how does coach Chuck Pagano explain the disparity? Turns out, he can't.
“I don't know if he's snake bit, I don't know what the heck is going on,” Pagano said Friday. “We'll get it fixed. We'll get the holes there. He's making the right reads, he's doing all the right things, he knows what to do. He played great without the ball, protection-wise, those things. His numbers are going to come. I'm not concerned about that.”
Pagano also noted that the holes haven't always been there for Richardson.
“You look at Trent's runs, for whatever reason, there's penetration, a guy is pulling and falls down,” the coach said. “There's a guy in the backfield waiting there. He had some really good runs, plays that he made in space, screens, things like that he does a great job with. That's going to come.”
We've been beating this drum for years but it bears repeating. Rushing success, according to research by Football Outsiders, is more dependent on the offensive line, but pass protection is more dependent on the quarterback. Put differently: Teams can find productive running backs -- no matter when they were drafted (or if they were drafted at all) or how much they're making -- if a good offensive line is already in place. A great quarterback, however, can mask an O-line's shortcomings. A great running back, in general, is wasted on a mediocre offensive line.
1) Richardson, who hasn't magically improved with the Colts, remains far from great.
2) Indy's O-line is mediocre (they rank 13th in run-blocking, according to Football Outsiders).
Pagano, meanwhile, remains undeterred. Asked if the organization regrets trading for Richardson, the coach said, “Absolutely not.”
Fair enough, but would this team be better with Richardson or the run-blocking interior offensive lineman they could have drafted with that 2014 first-round pick?