Trent Richardson had a lot of things working against him in his NFL debut for the Cleveland Browns against the Philadelphia Eagles. Richardson had undergone two surgical procedures since he had last played football, in college, while his Browns side were facing the much more talented roster of the Philadelphia Eagles.
Rust was expected from Richardson, but because he was fully recovered from his knee issue, the Browns had no issues feeding him the football. Outside of a few snaps from Brandon Jackson in a third down role late in the game, Richardson played every single snap at half-back for the Browns.
Richardson had 19 carries for 39 yards with one reception for five yards. If Richardson wasn’t fully healthy, there would be no chance that the Browns would have given him 20 touches.
Yet, the product on the field didn’t reflect the expectations emanating from his college career.
Richardson’s best run of the day was a nine yard draw in the second quarter. Richardson lined up in the backfield behind fullback Owen Marecic with two receivers to the right and one to the left on 1st and 10.
Weeden delays the handoff at the snap to hold the secondary and draw the defensive line onto him. The circled defenders are taken out of the play instantly while the Browns have one-on-one blocking in the middle. Richardson initially attacks the right A gap to draw the defense that way before escaping to the left.
Richardson’s initial movement drags the Eagles’ defense to the right allowing the Browns’ three interior linemen to get left-side-leverage.DeMeco Ryans is in position to tackle Richardson if he attacked the right A gap as he initially motioned to, while defensive tackle Philip Hunt is moving towards the center opposed to trying to fill the lane that Richardson is actually attacking.
Once on the edge, Richardson is faced with defensive backs, while the defensive linemen and linebackers are taken out of the game by a combination of the play call and his movement. Richardson let the play develop and took advantage of his blocking to gain the first five yards of his run.
From there, Richardson puts his head down and plows through Kurt Coleman and Nnamdi Asomugha for an additional five yards. Richardson didn’t show that aggressive running style at any other point throughout the whole game.
Those are the types of runs that made Richardson a top three draft pick. He repeatedly made plays like that during his time in college and will be expected to do so on a consistent basis throughout his career.
On his debut, Richardson was dealing with rust, an inconsistent offensive line and a quarterback who couldn’t complete passes deep. However, when Richardson was given opportunities, he failed to take advantage of them. Outside of the hesitation behind the line of scrimmage and lack of explosion in the open field, the one worrisome aspect of Richardson’s play on Sunday was his lack of awareness.
On most plays, Richardson was caught before he even took a step with the football as the Eagles’ defensive line penetration was overwhelming. On this play, Richardson’s second ever carry in the NFL, he is lined up behind a fullback with a tight end who motions across the formation to the receiver’s side of the field.
Richardson receives the ball, with every single defender to the left of the center accounted for in a man blocking scheme. While the Browns’ offensive line doesn’t power defenders off the line of scrimmage, a crease is developing between the guard and the center.
At this point Richardson is at the decisive point of his run. If he follows the red arrow to the outside, the two immediate defenders being entertained by blockers would have to bring him down with arm tackles. With Richardson’s talent, he should be expected to break arm tackles. Once on the edge, Richardson would be able to use his down field blockers to potentially run for a touchdown. At worst, Kurt Coleman beats the first blocker and Richardson gets forward moment for a positive gain.
Instead, Richardson looks to break through the offensive line by attacking the inside shoulder of his tackle. Ultimately Richardson is taken down for no gain as defenders pile on top of him. Richardson’s health has nothing to do with his vision carrying the ball, but this may be an element of his rustiness coming off of such a break from football.
Richardson was hesitant to bounce outside throughout the game. Most likely as a result of his adjustment from the college game to the professional and anticipating greater speed outside.
On this play Richardson is the sole back behind the quarterback with a receiver and tight end to the right and two receivers to the top of the screen. Once again this is an example of Richardson making the wrong read and costing himself an opportunity to break a big gain outside.
When Richardson initially gets the football, the key block appears to be the left guard. If the left guard can seal the edge, the hole initially appears to be there between the tackle and the guard for Richardson to break into the secondary. Richardson moves to go through that gap with his first step.
Even though the left guard beats the linebacker and pushes him inside, Trent Cole beats Joe Thomas inside to take away the running lane. At this point Richardson needs to take advantage of Cole’s aggressive inside move and attack Thomas’ outside shoulder instead of his inside. Richardson’s only obstacle would be Kurt Coleman who is pushing passed Greg Little(circled) in the slot. Considering what Richardson did to Coleman in the first example, and the fact that he heavily outweighs at least 99 percent of the defensive backs in the NFL, taking on Coleman on the edge should be an ideal scenario for him.
Instead, Richardson runs straight into his left guard and tries to push the pile for a positive gain. Richardson gains one yard before becoming the foundation piece for a pile of offensive and defensive linemen. This kind of play was common place on Sunday. Not only does it take away any opportunities for game-breaking plays down the field, it also doesn’t punish the Eagles defense because Richardson is hitting a pile of bodies.
Despite carrying the ball 19 times, Richardson didn’t actually wear down the defense the way he should. That was a combination of a running style that was at times aimless and often hesitant.
The anxiety of many rookie running-backs often sees them bounce the ball outside too quickly. They are too anxious to make an impression early on, however because Trent Richardson has missed the off-season and not played a relevant game of football in so long, he appears to have gone in the complete opposite direction.
Richardson wasn’t drafted to be a cautious runner. He was drafted because he broke open games for Alabama in college with his strength, dynamism and explosion. That strength, dynamism and explosion is worthless at this level however if Richardson isn’t making intelligent decisions on the field.
Cian Fahey writes for Irishcentral and the Guardian. You can follow him on twitter @Cianaf