This is a question that I have seen posed to many writers and bloggers in the last couple of weeks. Is Richardson the real deal, and could he be an offensive centerpiece for years to come? It’s a great question, but the answer isn’t so easy. There are many factors that would help one come to a logical conclusion. Is he durable enough? Will grow with the offense or just be a “bruiser” back? Will the Colts be able to afford him when his contract is up at the same time as Luck’s? See? Not an easy question to answer. I think Richardson can be the guy in the Colts’ backfield for years to come, but a few things have to happen first. Let me give you my opinion on what those few things are going to be.
First of all, Richardson must learn better backfield vision. When he was at Alabama he could run over half the defenders because of his size and strength. In the NFL he cannot do that as often as he may think. He must learn to keep his eyes moving at all times to find the right hole to get to so he can gain more than a few yards. Against the Seahawks we saw him do that a few times, but not nearly enough. He is still picking the hole he wants and just trying to push the pile for the extra yards- but not even he can push more than 900 lbs. in the direction he wants it to go. Now I will say this, Richardson hasn’t had too many stellar holes to run through this season, but if you go back through film he has missed more than you would think. In a recent interview when he came to Indy, Richardson stated he describes himself as a one cut back. This mean he will only make one cut towards a hole and then go north and south. That is great and exactly what this offense needs, but he must be looking for the right hole before he makes that one cut.
Second, he needs to go north and south more than east and west. This combines in with the first point. His vision isn’t what I thought it would be or what it could be yet. Some of you may think I’m crazy for saying that he doesn’t go north and south as much as he should. He takes the ball, makes his “one-cut” and then runs straight. Watch the games more closely. There are times that he does that, but how many times can you count without looking at film have you seen him stacked up in the in the backfield because he ran east and west? If you look at what Donald Brown does when he is in the games you will know what I mean by going north and south. Brown, who is the slasher and outside runner of two, takes the ball and goes straight with it. That isn’t an offensive line problem. The line isn’t blocking better for Brown. Brown is just hitting the holes fast and going straight in with the ball. The two big runs that Richardson had yesterday was exactly what we should be seeing more of from him. He took the ball and ran it straight up the gut with purpose. He wasn’t trying to be a flashy running back and take it outside where he could break free. He was trying to break free by breaking the defense down. This is his bread and butter and he shouldn’t be shying away from it.
The last point is he needs to get out of his own head. I don’t know if anyone else saw this yesterday but after his first big run of the afternoon for 11 or 12 yards the TV cameras got a shot of his face. It was a look of relief. A look of “finally, I got more than 3 yards”. If anyone can tell me they have seen that face on him before he came to Indy I will shut my mouth and never speak of any of this again. That was a look of “wow, I can do it”. That’s what I mean of getting out of his own head. He needs to just remember this is a game and he knows how to play the game as good or better than 3/4 of his peers. This guy is a top 5 back in this league once he finds himself. Once he gets completely comfortable. Once he hits his stride then the league better watch out. With Luck slinging the ball and Richardson pounding the ball at them, this Colts offense could be very dangerous.
A few of these points could be chalked up to bad play calling or offensive line play. I can see both of those arguments but if you really look into it, I don’t think that is completely the case. This is going to sound like an excuse but I’m really not making one for him or Pep. Pep’s plan got a shock when Vick went down and then Bradshaw went down. He had to rely on a running back he has had less than a month with to be THE GUY in this offense. You can see that T-Rich is starting to find his stride with this team, but he isn’t there just yet. I will say this; by the time the bye week comes and goes, if Richardson isn’t showing signs of being the man then the question posed at the beginning of this article will be answered. That answer will be no, and he will be just another guy the Colts will trot out there until his time is done. If he does finally hit his stride after or right before the bye week then this season is going more fun to watch than any of us would have thought.