Big trades almost never happen in the NFL – especially in the middle of the season. So when Cleveland and Indianapolis made a deal involving 2012′s No. 3 overall pick last week, the national fallout was probably much larger than it should have been.
Almost immediately, grades were handed out to both teams. Indy fans seemed to love the trade from the moment it was leaked. In the minds of Colts fans, Trent Richardson represented Indy’s first potential elite running back since Edgerrin James was terrorizing the AFC.
Browns fans responded much more negatively, at least initially. However, as the week ended, many people looked at the trade much more positively for the Browns, with experts like Bill Barnwell even concluding that the Browns had won the trade outright. After all, Richardson was far from a sure thing, and the Colts looked as if their draft pick might end up in the high single digits, rather than the low 20s.
After yesterday’s games, the trade looks far different. Of course the “National Football League” is a league full of hyperbolic overreactions. That’s what happens when your team only plays 16 games in the regular season. Still, it’s hard to say that another week of games didn’t drastically affect how you looked at both teams.
Going into this week, the following was the consensus regarding the Colts and Browns:
- The Colts got lucky (no pun intended) a lot last year and were due to regress a little by not winning so many close games.
- This season’s schedule was much harder than last year’s 32nd ranked schedule (nine of their 16 games last season came against teams that “earned” top 10 draft picks).
- They had barely beaten the seemingly awful Raiders in Week 1 only to get physically dominated by the lowly Miami Dolphins in Week 2.
- They still couldn’t protect Andrew Luck, who was on pace to once again lead the league in hits taken.
- Conclusion: The Colts were much further away from the playoffs than perhaps their front office wanted to admit, and were going to be 1-2 with games against the Seahawks, Broncos, Chargers, and Texans coming soon. That pick they traded away for Trent Richardson was looking better and better by the minute.
- Despite high hopes entering the season, the Browns’ offense was in shambles and they had looked awful. Brandon Weeden was a train wreck.
- After barely scoring against the lowly Dolphins in Week 1, the Browns failed to show up against a Baltimore team that had been torched the week before by Peyton Manning.
- The defense was solid, but with the trade of Trent Richardson, the front office looked to be “giving up on the season” after Week 2.
- Conclusion: Sure, this front office had no ties to Trent Richardson, but had a football team ever gone into tank mode this early? Was “Riggin for Wiggins” diffusing into other sports? Did it matter? With the Colts’ situation looking worse and worse, the Browns could end up with two incredibly high draft picks and possibly get Jadeveon Clowney and a quarterback – or even draft two quarterbacks just to be safe!
What a difference a week makes.
Not only did the Colts look awesome yesterday (they completely manhandled one of the most physical teams in the league on both sides of the ball), but their overall season performance is looking better and better. As ugly as the win was against the Raiders, it was the first time the entire league had gotten a really good look at the feisty Terrelle Pryor.
Pryor gave Indy fits until late in the game when they forced him into several mistakes with the game on the line. As for the loss against Miami, the Dolphins look to be one of the league’s best teams after yesterday’s win over Atlanta. Miami has one of the best defensive fronts in football, and Ryan Tannehill has proven to be more than just “the fifth guy in a four-quarterback draft.” The Dolphins currently stand undefeated and are a far-stretch from looking like a fluke.
And how did Richardson do? For the most part, his performance was mixed. Both Ahmad Bradshaw and the much maligned Donald Brown looked to be more explosive than the former Alabama standout. Still, Richardson held up much better in pass protection, and possessed a physicality that neither of his counterparts had.
In a game full of three- and four-yard runs, Colts fans often saw Richardson run through the first one or two tackles while earning a hard fought four yards.
In all, Richardson played fewer than 40 snaps and was targeted on 17 of them. It was pretty clear that his familiarity with the playbook was incredibly limited, and when he did enter the game, it was likely that he was getting the ball. Midway through the second quarter, the 49ers seemed to key in on this as well. All things considered, 13 carries for 35 yards isn’t great, but it isn’t awful against one of the league’s best fronts, especially when they knew there was a good chance that Richardson was going to touch the ball if he was in the game.
The Colts schedule is not going to get any easier, and if they keep suffering more and more injuries, the playoffs are still mostly likely a long shot. But yesterday’s game showed that Cleveland’s hopes of having two top 10 draft picks in 2014 might be a little far-fetched.
As for Cleveland, one has to wonder how Richardson would have looked in an offense with a healthy Josh Gordon at receiver and a competent quarterback.
Just like the Colts, the Browns’ entire season all of the sudden looks that much more impressive. The Dolphins’ loss, as mentioned above, can’t be seen as a choke job anymore. And as bad as Baltimore looked in Week 1, it’s now likely that they ran into the perfect storm (pun partially intended) opening night in the Mile High altitude of Denver. The Ravens completely manhandled the physical Texans yesterday and look to be at least on par with the Bengals in the AFC North.
Cleveland fans watched an offense yesterday that possessed an explosiveness rarely seen since, I dunno, that random Derek Anderson season? Tight end Jordan Cameron was an absolute stud over the middle, and Gordon stretched the field in ways that even a sane Braylon Edwards couldn’t do.
Leading the cause was Brian Hoyer, a quarterback that Mike Lombardi had liked for years while he was away from the game. The local kid and former graduate of Tom Brady University didn’t play perfect, but he also played with a confidence that hasn’t been evident for even one game in Brandon Weeden. On the Browns’ game-winning drive, at no point in time did you think he would pull a “Weeden” and throw the ball out of bounds on a fourth down play.
Trading Richardson had to be tough, but if the Browns didn’t think they were going to be successful this season, it was probably wise to get some value for him while they still could. But now, with losses against the Ravens and Dolphins looking better and better, it really does appear that the Browns may have just been a competent quarterback away from being 8-8 or better.
Time will tell whether or not the Browns panicked and traded Trent Richardson too soon. It wouldn’t be the first time a highly regarded running back changed scenery and turned into a stud on a team whose offense fit his style better (see: Lynch, Marshawn). But right now, both the Browns and Colts look to have better times ahead this season than any of us may have realized a week ago.