By Tony Grossi
Extra Points …
The revelation: There was a point last Sunday when I thought the Browns would just run the Cowboys right out of their nightclub, er, stadium.
It was the second quarter. The Browns were up, 10-0, and driving down for another score. The offensive line was taking control. And the running back was blasting through holes as if he were catapulted by a giant pinball plunger.
Seven yards straight ahead on one run, 12 the same way on the very next.
That’s what they got him for, I thought. To take it to a defense. To step on its throat when it was down. To bring it to submission.
Only I looked closer and saw the back running with authority was Montario Hardesty, not Trent Richardson.
Dancing with the stars: After a couple plays’ breather, Richardson re-entered. The holes seemingly got smaller, and the hesitation in Richardson’s approach was glaring. Too much shuffling and dancing. The contrast in the styles of Hardesty and Richardson was unavoidable, and troubling.
“There is (a big difference in the way Hardesty hits a hole),” offensive coordinator Brad Childress affirmed on Wednesday.
Childress then went on to say that that’s not necessarily a bad thing, that a change of pace in running style stymies a defense and keeps it a little off balance.
“You don’t wish they’re all the same,” Childress said. “Montario gives you a different tempo.”
It sounded to me like he was protecting Richardson. Running for over 100 yards in two straight games with a painful rib injury may have taken a toll on Richardson in Dallas. It was his busiest game of the year, with 34 touches (runs and catches), but he faded down the stretch in the second half and overtime.
After the game, Richardson was despondent, saying he left a lot of yards on the field. On Wednesday, he was harsher in his self-critique.
“You can put (the Dallas) game on me. I messed up,” he said.
Richardson was on his way to his best game as a pro in Dallas.
At halftime, he had 62 yards on 16 carries (3.9 average) and three catches for 31 yards. In the third quarter, Richardson’s rush average dipped to 3.8 (15 yards on four carries). The fourth quarter he slowed to a crawl – 2.6 (18 yards on seven attempts).
In the second half alone, Richardson had four carries of zero or negative yards, including the vault on a long third-and-goal from the Dallas’ 1. On that critical play, Richardson made the conscious decision to leave his feet, forsaking the hole to his left that Alex Smith had opened with a lead block. It was kind of sympotmatic of why Richardson is now 2 for 8 on third-and-1 rushing attempts.
“There are times when the running back gets stopped for no gain,” coach Pat Shurmur said, generically. “You don’t want it to happen. Typically there could be numerous reasons for it. I don’t think there’s much to make about that (percentage), frankly.”
Richardson knows: When I wrote on this topic on Monday, the amount of venomous reaction at me from Browns fans was alarming. Listen, I’ve been in Richardson’s corner before the Browns even used three draft picks to move up one spot to take him at No. 3.
But something’s not right when a runner like him can’t convert a single yard and does the Ickey Shuffle behind the line of scrimmage or confronting a defender after a short pass.
Richardson finished with 95 yards rushing on 28 attempts (3.4 average) and six catches for 49 yards.
“Did he have a couple runs he’d like to have back? He did,” Childress said. “Ninety-five yards, it wasn’t terrible, but when a guy looks at it like I could have had 130 or something like that, then it feels like he left some meat on the bone.”
That kind of game surely would have secured the win for the Browns, just as Emmitt Smith used to do for the Cowboys in the 1990s. Richardson aspires to impact games like his boyhood rival from Pensacola, Fla., did.
“In critical games like that, I have to make sure we win. That's why they drafted me,” Richardson said.
He is right about that.
|Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com. |
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 44 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
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