Run Trent Run?

A hotly debated topic, even on this blog, over the past month is the Colts trade for Trent Richardson. Now myself, and many others, were very reluctant to give up any draft pick, let alone a 2014 First Round pick, for a RB since RBs can seemingly be plugged in on a whim. Case in point, Arian Foster of the Texans, Alfred Morris of Washington, and even Dominic Rhodes when the Colts won their only Super Bowl. After a month in the Colts system though, Trent Richardson’s numbers don’t seem to justify the high price of the trade. However, numbers sometimes lie.

Trent Richardson is averaging a pedestrian 3.1 yards per carry (YPC) with his top rushing perforamce being only 60 yards. While his total rushing yards still leaves much to be desired, his YPC has steadily increased in each game: 2.7, 3.0, 3.1, and 4.0. Further, if one breaks down the game against SEA, arguably the best defense the Colts have faced this season, Trent ran terribly in the first half with 6 rushes for 2 total yards, or 0.33 YPC. However, in the second half, Trent ran 12 times for 54 yards, 4.5 YPC.

But as a said before, numbers sometimes lie. Trent’s season YPC of 3.1 should realistically be much lower if not for Trent’s incredible ability to break tackle after tackle. After going back and watching each of the Colts running plays over the last three games, it is safe to say that those low numbers can be attributed to three things, only one of which can be pinned on Richardson.

First, Trent Richardson has to learn the offense, like really learn it. It was evident in both the Jacksonville and Seattle games that he was thinking too much. He got the ball and looked lost. He didn’t have that explosive burst you’d expect in a top RB. In his defense, this will be the third, yes third, offense this young RB has learned in the past 22 months. So admittedly there will be some growing pains, but from the SD game, he seems to be hitting the hole with more authority, with no tackles for loss. This shows there is at least some progress in his grasp of Pep Hamilton’s offensive system.

That aforementioned offensive system is the next thing leading to Richardson’s rather unexpected numbers. The Colts really don’t seem to have an offensive identity yet. They have the best young QB in the game, but too often is the ball not in Luck’s hands. Early in the game, the Colts do not seem to run play action, simply trying to run the ball to set up the play action for the second half of games. That is too predictable. When the Colts do employ the play action, like more in the second half of games, everybody wins. Further, the Colts simply do not have the personnel to be a “power” running team yet. They try to run it down opponents throats but the Colts most glaring weakness almost always gets in their way.

That glaring weakness is the interior of the offensive line, which quite honestly, has been offensive, and is the last issue that is causing Trent’s numbers to be less than spectacular, or even less than pretty good. Samson Satele and Mike McGlynn have been a sieve for opposing defenses. They are the weakest of weak links for this Colts team. After going through most of Trent’s runs over the past three games, it’s evident that the middle/right side of the offensive line is getting blown off the ball. Defenses are constantly in the backfield hitting Colts’ RBs before they have a chance to get going. Even times when the Colts run left, the right guard has allowed his defender to shoot under him and trip the Colts’ RBs up in the backfield. Most of Trent’s big runs have come running to the left side, behind surprisingly good Rookie LG Hugh Thornton, or on pitches to the right with Thornton pulling.

However, Satele and McGlynn haven’t just been issues for Richardson but for Luck and the Colts passing game as well. Opposing defenses know that the Colts are weak up front and have exploited that weakness. Defenses are constantly running stunts and blitzes over Satele and McGlynn to very effective results with Luck’s hurried or hit numbers being in the Top 10 in the league. Some defenses don’t even feel the need to go so far as to bring extra pressure and simply let their DTs simply walk Satele and McGlynn into Luck’s face. Heck, even the Colts know that spot is their weakness, as word broke that they brought in an OG for a workout. If the Colts expect to be Super Bowl contenders, they must get this issue resolved first and foremost.

Needless to say, Trent’s issues have not been all Trent’s fault. If anything, Trent has saved the Colts from far more negative plays because he consistently gets hit in the backfield and somehow breaks the first tackle to get something positive out of the play. Richardson has shown excellent burst and good agility in the open field making would be tacklers miss. The problem is getting him in the open field to use his natural ability. There is plenty of blame to go around. However, most of that blame should be shouldered on the offensive line, more specifically, Satele and McGlynn. Trent will learn the playbook, Pep Hamilton will become more comfortable calling plays at the NFL level, but until the offensive line issues can be solved, the Colts will likely continue to struggle.

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