One of the surest ways to isolate a running back's performance is to compare him with the other backs on his team, especially for backs in a timeshare. Theoretically, the line plays exactly the same regardless of who is in the backfield, and for the most part, a defense will attack runners in the same fashion. They might commit more players to the run depending on the back, but they're not going to tailor a scheme to the 15 touches Running Back A gets versus the 15 that go to Running Back B. That's why, after last week's 30-27 win over the Titans, the Colts would have to be crazy to still play Trent Richardson as their primary back over Donald Brown.
Quite simply, the Colts could not have won that game without Brown's contributions. He ran for 80 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries, an average of 5.7 yards per carry. Meanwhile, Richardson continued to slog along, picking up 22 yards on eight carries. On the season, Brown has 54 fewer yards than Richardson on 72 fewer carries. He could average two yards per carry over his next 80 totes and still blow Richardson's YPC out of the water. Watching these two play in the exact same offense behind the exact same line, there's no doubt that Brown is the superior running back.
A handful of plays from last week's win over the Titans wonderfully illustrate the gulf between Brown and Richardson. Where Richardson plods and allows holes to close, Brown hits them with force and decisiveness, taking advantage of the tiniest sliver of daylight. The development of the plays that Richardson turned into a little more than two yards on average were no different from the ones that Brown produced nearly six yards on average. Rather, Brown's running style sets him up to be the more effective player.
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Before we compare the two, let's first take a look at what Brown does that allows him to succeed where Richardson cannot. On this play, the Colts have a 1st and 10 at their own 46-yard-line. The play is designed to go over right guard, with two tight ends to the right of the formation. Here's what it looks like at the snap.
Brown sets up his blocks, allowing Gosder Cherilus and Mike McGlynn to get to where they need to be. Still, when he first makes his attack, there does not appear to be much room for him to break through. He finds the tiny bit of space between his lineman, breaks one arm tackle, and busts a 15-yard run. It's plays like this that the Colts have not gotten from Richardson since making the blockbuster trade. See, just look at how tiny that hole is when Brown makes his move.
Now let's put the two of them side by side. The following are two very similar plays, designed to hit the same holes. They both take place on first down with 10 yards to go in the first quarter. Here is the formation with Richardson in the backfield.
Here's a look at the formation with Brown in the backfield.
On both plays, the Indianapolis line opens a hole over left guard. The only difference is the runner in the backfield. Richardson dances a bit before getting to the hole. By time he gets there, cornerback Alterraun Verner shakes his blocker and is in position to make the tackle. You can see just how open the hole is in the screenshot below. The fact that this play only goes for one yard is on Richardson.
Brown, on the other hand, wastes no time getting to and through the hole. As we can see in the below screenshot, that urgency gives him time to break one tackle and pick up nine yards.
Finally, let's compare a toss play that Brown converted into a six-yard touchdown run while Richardson managed to pick up just four yards on one of his most indecisive runs of the night. Again, the look of the formation at the snap, with Richardson.
And here it is with Brown.
Richardson appears to have his blocks set up well here. In fact, it looks as though he has two options. The play is designed to go inside, but he might actually be able to freelance a bit and take it to the sideline for a big gain. He could stick with the original design, as well, and pick up a solid chunk of yardage by hitting the hole right in front of him. Here's the point when he needs to make a decision.
Instead, he simply follows directly behind his blockers, runs into a wall that should have been serving as a convoy, and slips and falls on his own.
Brown ran the exact same play properly earlier in the game. At the point in the first screenshot below, Brown has just caught the pitch from Andrew Luck. He has already put his foot in the ground and has begun making his cut up field behind Samson Satele. In the second screenshot, you see the fruits of that decisiveness. Brown has a monster hole that allows him to scoot right on into the end zone.
Brown gave the Colts lat week the element they've been lacking out of the backfield all season. For a team harboring Super Bowl hopes this season, they have to see that they have no choice but to acknowledge that Richardson is a sunk cost. Brown gives them a better chance to win and makes Luck a more effective playaction quarterback. They'll need that deception even more without Reggie Wayne. Assuming Chuck Pagano and Pep Hamilton go in this direction, Brown should be an RB2 for fantasy owners during the final stretch of the season.
All images are screen shots of All-22 film.
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