Cleveland Browns running back Trent Richardson sustained a rib injury in Week 6 against the Cincinnati Bengals, the result of which was a painful bruising of his rib cartilage. It's not the kind of injury that requires any specific type of treatment—it's just very painful. Rest, of course, makes the pain subside more quickly, but that's often not an option in the NFL.
As such, Richardson wore a flak jacket to protect his ribs last week against the Indianapolis Colts. His discomfort lingered, however, and his performance was affected by it—he rushed just eight times for eight yards before being pulled in favor of Montario Hardesty, who carried the ball only seven times, for 28 yards.
Richardson's goal is to come back to the field against the San Diego Chargers looking very much like his old self. He's expressed his frustration that he's yet to play at 100 percent health—he had knee surgery in the summer which held down his production at the start of the season, followed up by the rib injury—however, it's not likely he'll be at that point this Sunday.
Richardson has been practicing all week, and Browns head coach Pat Shumur says he's been showing improvement, adding that "he's better this Friday than he was [the] last," but Shurmur was also quick to add that he "can't tell you exactly what's going to happen Sunday," which makes it quite clear that Richardson could be a game-time decision.
His practice participation has been of the limited variety all week, and he's officially listed as questionable for Sunday's game. It was posited earlier this week that Shurmur could elect to have Richardson sit out until after the Week 10 bye to assure he's at full health for the final push of the season, and that wouldn't be an unwise decision.
At this point, halfway into the season, the Browns' run game hasn't looked like the powerhouse it was projected to be with Richardson carrying the ball. Neither he nor Hardesty has had real success—Richardson is averaging 3.4 yards per carry, Hardesty, 3.8. Richardson does have four rushing touchdowns to his name and five total scores on the season—invaluable points that kept games close for the Browns, but the ground attack clearly isn't what's propelling their offense at this point.
However, with this rib injury nagging him, he's not going make the kind of impact he did when he was running the ball for Alabama. The only thing that will help his season and the Browns' running game is for him to be out there as healthy as possible, and that cannot happen if he plays this week or the next.
Hardesty has proven enough to take over the starting job for a few weeks. With Richardson being a No. 3 overall pick, there's little chance that he'll be jumped on the depth chart even if Hardesty plays well in the next two games. Holding him out also doesn't make Richardson appear soft—he's already expressed that he intends to play as long as he's given the go-ahead, putting the responsibility on Shurmur.
And regardless, the injury Richardson sustained is very real and very painful—he took a helmet to his ribcage, after all, and is lucky to not have broken anything. For a running back, it absolutely limits the ability to run, to move and to evade defenders. It renders him practically ineffective anyway, so it makes sense for him to sit and heal, lest he be plagued by this pain for the remainder of the season and cannot contribute at the level of his actual abilities.
It is understandable that Richardson wants to play, but it's also understandable why he should be held out through the Browns' Week 10 bye. He can either be a marginal contributor for now and for as long as his ribs continue to bother him, or he can let his ribs heal and come back in Week 11 the healthiest he's been since coming into the NFL. Cleveland's season to this point has not hinged on Richardson—it can afford to be without him for two weeks and he can afford to sit out, with few ill-effects upon him or his team.
What the Browns need most from their run game is health. If Richardson can come back in Week 11 completely healthy, that could easily be enough to bring about marked improvements on their rushing yardage; however, if they choose to keep him going though his ribs are still bothering him, there's little chance they'll be able to turn that area of their offense around this season.