San Diego Game Proves a Healthy Trent Richardson Needs 20-Plus Carries Per Week

Andrea Hangst@FBALL_AndreaFeatured Columnist IVOctober 29, 2012

Trent Richardson made the Chargers' top-rated run defense look foolish on Sunday.
Trent Richardson made the Chargers' top-rated run defense look foolish on Sunday.Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

In Week 7, Cleveland Browns running back Trent Richardson had just eight yards on eight carries before being pulled from his team's contest against the Indianapolis Colts and their notoriously porous run defense. Richardson was dealing with lingering pain after suffering a rib cartilage injury in the previous week, and as a result, it reduced both his burst and mobility, and he wasn't effective.

Richardson spent all of last week limited in practice, and his playing status was considered very much up in the air. There was some talk of Richardson potentially being deactivated until after Cleveland's Week 10 bye in order for him to heal completely—something I believed was a good idea if he continued to struggle while dealing with his injury.

However, against the San Diego Chargers, Richardson looked at his best. In the 7-6 win, he rushed 24 times for 122 yards and scored the team's lone touchdown. In the wind and the rain, the Browns had to rely on the ground game to get things done—quarterback Brandon Weeden completed only 11 of his 27 pass attempts—and Richardson made the league's best run defense look like anything but.

This game was the only time this season Richardson broke the 20-carry mark, and the results were impressive. Good blocking helped him find holes, while his trademark battering-ram power made would-be tacklers continually miss. Negative runs or carries for no gain were no problem—the Browns still kept on with the run, and the results were impressive.

As such, head coach Pat Shurmur shouldn't reverse course any time soon. With Richardson running so well while getting the most carries he's seen this season, he's clearly healthy enough to finally take a more prominent role in the offense.

With the second half of the season now underway and the inclement weather conditions that go with it already making appearances, running the ball becomes more important than ever. Shurmur should thus make the Browns a more run-heavy offense with Richardson leading the way.

Weeden has been playing well—even against the Chargers, in the poor weather conditions, he went a second straight week without turning the ball over, and he has an ever-improving group of receivers to throw to.

However, with the run game finally posing a legitimate threat, the Browns become a more balanced, dangerous and unpredictable offense, which is the perfect identity to have while nursing a two-win record and having difficult contests ahead.

Twenty or 25 carries isn't too much to ask of a first-year running back like Richardson. He spent his 2011 season at Alabama as the team's uncontested workhorse, and though he's had two knee procedures this year as well as the rib injury, he's clearly in no jeopardy of losing his effectiveness. 

While it's true that Richardson is a rather expensive investment—his draft position combined with the fact he's a running back certainly makes it understandable why they'd want to keep him protected. However, they also drafted him to revamp their run game and transform their offense. He clearly is capable of doing just that if Sunday's 122 yards are any indication.

From here on out, Shurmur should be more than willing to get the ball in Richardson's hands 20 or more times per game. He clearly wasn't fully healthy on Sunday, but he made the most of his carries, averaging 5.1 yards per rush and making up just under half of the Browns' total offensive output. If that's not a convincing argument for keeping Richardson more involved, then there isn't one to be found.