BEREA — Trent Richardson rushed for a career-high 122 yards in a win Sunday, including a scintillating 26-yard touchdown. His injured rib cartilage feels better by the week and he proved he could play through the pain and be productive. He received the loudest ovation Tuesday at the Cavaliers’ opener.
Richardson seems to be on the doorstep of a strong second half to his rookie season, but he must knock down one more barrier to really break through.
He’s picked up only two first downs in seven third-and-1 chances, and his 28.6 conversion rate ranks last of the 47 players listed in the NFL’s statbook. For comparison’s sake, New York’s Shonn Greene is 7-for-7 and Baltimore’s Ray Rice is 5-for-5.
“We need to just execute more and make sure that we’re all on the same page,” Richardson said Thursday. “We do make mistakes, we’re all human, but we can’t do that.
“We’ve all got to move the pile. You’ve got to convert and you’ve got to make sure you’re doing whatever it takes to get that first down. It’s one thing we’ve been working on all week. We’ll be better on Sunday.”
The win over the Chargers showed the potential and the frustration of Richardson in short yardage. He picked up 11 yards off left tackle on third-and-1, was stopped a yard short on third-and-2 as the Browns went without a huddle to try to catch the Chargers off-guard and lost 2 yards on third-and-1.
“You need to be able to execute at a very high percentage for 1 yard,” said coach Pat Shurmur, who commissioned a study on the problem. “We’ve had a combination of things that have happened to us and it’s not always on the runner, but we need to enforce our will and get a yard. We’re working on it to get it better.”
Richardson shares the blame because he hasn’t always followed his blockers or hit the creases when they’re there. That’s been an issue not just in short yardage, as he adjusts to his line and the Browns’ scheme. He can also no longer simply bounce the play to the outside and expect to be in the clear – NFL defenses are too fast and too strong.
Richardson made strides against the Chargers. He averaged 5.1 yards on 24 carries and proved the Browns can be a run-first team when the weather and game situation dictate.
“He’s breaking tackles and making people miss,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “The run for the touchdown was one of the better runs you’re going to see. He looks like he’s full speed ahead to us.”
Left tackle Joe Thomas is encouraged by Richardson’s growth within the offense and developing chemistry with the offensive line.
“I think both sides are becoming more comfortable with each other and I think Trent understands where he needs to be and how he fits into the run game and I think he is improving every single week,” he said. “It’s fun because every game he’s kind of understanding his fits a little bit more and he still has a long way to go, which is exciting because he’s got sky-high potential and he could really be one of the greats and it’s going to be fun blocking for him.”
The next challenge for Richardson is the Ravens (5-2) on Sunday. But Baltimore doesn’t bring the impenetrable run defense it has for the last decade.
The Ravens have allowed 622 rushing yards in their last three games, a total that would’ve been unthinkable when they went 39 games without allowing a 100-yard rusher from 2006-09. The Ravens rank 30th in the league against the run, allowing 142.9 a game – 50 more a game than last season. The opponent is averaging 4.0 a carry, and the Ravens have finished 16 straight seasons under that mark.
“Well, we’ve worked on it, I can assure you that,” Harbaugh said. “It’s something we take very seriously. We’re not happy with where that’s been.”
The Browns are aware of the numbers – Baltimore is 28th overall and 24th against the pass – but aren’t falling for them. They’ve watched the film and have a different impression.
“The numbers are lying,” center Alex Mack said. “I think they’re a really good defense. They have a lot of talent there. They’re still winning games.”
The Ravens’ best performance of the year against the run came in Week 4, holding the Browns to a season-low 43. Richardson rushed 14 times for 47 yards (3.4) and a touchdown.
“It’s a fast defense and the defense plays together,” Richardson said. “And one thing I know about ’em, they don’t get down and they’re going to try to do anything to hit you in your mouth.”
Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees expects to see a lot more of Richardson on Sunday.
“I would say they are going to run the ball,” he said. “I wouldn’t think that would be rocket science. That’s what they do best anyhow, and right now we haven’t done well defending the run, especially the last three games.”
Richardson was limited after injuring the rib cartilage Oct. 14 against the Bengals, then was benched the next week in Indianapolis. He appeared to clear the hurdle against the Chargers.
“It’s getting better,” he said. “When it will be 100 percent, I don’t know. It will happen over time. During the week, it’s a little sore, but on Sunday it’s 100 percent.”
Shurmur hopes the Chargers game is a sign of things to come.
“He showed up well and let’s hope we get a good little trend here,” he said.