INDIANAPOLIS – Limit, but don’t dare eliminate.
That’s how the Colts need to handle the rushing plan for Anthony Richardson in years to come.
Richardson is an exceptionally gifted athlete, bringing a run element to the quarterback position not often seen.
That attribute can’t be ignored, but it also must be used selectively over the course of a 17-game grind, where snap counts rise over 1,000.
When pressed about his playing style, Richardson doesn’t think he needs to change his ways, but did acknowledge he has to pick his spots when wanting to show off his physicality.
“It’s just a matter of me being out there, learning when to get down, when not to get down,” the 21-year-old QB said following the conclusion to his rookie season. “Some of the injuries were unfortunate. Like my ankle getting stepped on (vs. the Jaguars), hitting my knee on the turf really hard (vs. the Jaguars) – just stuff like that, stuff that I can’t control. But the ones that I can control, I’ve got to prevent those like me slowing up near the end zone and getting a concussion (vs. the Texans). That was completely on me. Then getting tackled (vs. the Titans), I can’t really prevent that – I was trying to brace myself for it and unfortunately my shoulder did what it did. I don’t think I have to change the way I play, just being a little smarter when the time does come.”
“I feel like I’m going to stay the same. Keep being me, keep playing the way I’m playing, but like I said, being a little smarter when the time is needed. I can’t try and run through everybody. If it’s 1st-and-10, get what I can get and get down, get out of bounds, get to the sideline and do what I can do. But if the game is on the line, I’ve got to go out there and compete. It’s just a matter of being smart for myself and the team. I’m going to try and do that for sure.”
In Richardson’s 173 rookie snaps, he carried the ball 25 times. He suffered 4 different injuries on 4 of those runs, with the final one—an AC throwing shoulder joint injury—ending his rookie campaign in Week 5. Richardson started and finished just 1 of the 4 games he played in.
Let’s expand on Richardson’s rookie numbers.
The rookie was hovering right around 10 rush attempts per game, when he played four quarters.
If you extrapolate that out to 17 games worth of action, Richardson would be looking at 170 rush attempts for an entire season.
What if the Colts took that 10 attempt per game number and cut that down to 6 carries per game?
That would take out around 68 rushes, with Richardson inevitably being hit on a high percentage of those, and eliminate a chunk of wear and tear.
Yes, taking some of those run-threat opportunities away from Richardson lowers the ceiling of the Colts offense a bit, but it also keeps their franchise quarterback away from a number of extra hits. And if that allows him to play closer to 17 games in a season, and/or have a longer career, that’s what ultimately matters the most.
Sure, there will be down and distance moments within a game where the Colts will need for Richardson to treat it like 4th-and-Goal in the Super Bowl.
But that doesn’t need to be the case on a 2nd-and-7 in the 1st quarter of a Week 4 game.
“It’s a tough balance because you don’t want to take away,” Chris Ballard begins when asked about Richardson and his playing style. “It was a little like this with Andrew (Luck). Instinctively when you get in a game, you react to whatever your instincts take you to. To tell him, ‘Hey look, you’ve got to get down,’ or ‘You’ve got to get out of bounds.’ Andrew would always tell me, ‘Chris, my instincts and my competitive nature just takes over.’ I think the same thing happens with Anthony. I don’t think Anthony is reckless by any stretch. I didn’t think Andrew was either. I think they’re competitive. But learning when to get out of bounds, when to get down versus when to go for it, those are going to be things he’s just going to have to learn.
“I think he learned versus Houston going into the end zone on the one touchdown run where he just relaxed for just a hair and next thing you know he took a big shot crossing the goal line. Those are things he’s just having to learn. Like in college, he could probably get away with that. He can’t get away with that at this level. Guys are too big and fast. Until he crosses the goal line, they’re going to strike. It’s just a learning curve with him.”
When gauging \ Richardson’s run rate (1 rush attempt for every 6.92 snaps), it compares very similarly to fellow dynamic quarterbacks like Jalen Hurts (1 rush attempt for every 7.02 snaps), Lamar Jackson (1 rush attempt for every 7.02 snaps) and Justin Fields (1 rush attempt for every 6.68 snaps).
Josh Allen, who is a similar body type to Richardson, ran it a bit less than this group (1 rush attempt for every 10.14 snaps).
Go back and watch the play that ended Richardson’s season.
It was a rather non-descript design run scheme where Richardson is in no position to slide or run out of bounds. He’s simply executing the play that was called, with a player similarly built to him making a tackle you see dozens of times in the course of a game.
Avoiding such a hit is hard. That’s where taking the keys out of Richardson’s hands by eliminating the number of those plays over the course of 17 games helps your percentages in trying to stay away from injuries. It’s obviously not a guarantee, but it keeps you out of more potentially dangerous moments.
Yes, Richardson could easily get hit in the pocket, but he is in more control there in getting rid of the football and is much more protected there by officials compared to running in the open field.
Doing this will also not lessen the threat that Richardson still brings to opposing defenses.
If defenses choose to get lackadaisical in routinely committing the proper attention to Richardson’s dual-threat ability, that’s where you sprinkle in those half dozen runs per game and the opponent gets burnt.
A major part of Shane Steichen’s off-season focus will need to decide on how he, as the head coach and play caller, wants to handle his prized commodity.
“We’ll cross that bridge next year when we get there,” Steichen said of the need to change any ways the Colts operate with him moving forward. “But again, one of the things that makes him really good is a runner. A lot of those guys around the league that run and make plays – that’s what helps your offense. But we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”
Totally protecting Richardson from hits/injuries is impossible, and it would be a disservice to drafting him No. 4 overall.
But you can find that balance with his game and also preserving his career.
Again, limit, not eliminate.
That needs to be the Colts plan with No. 5 moving forward.
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