We’re only two games into the Anthony Richardson era in Indianapolis and it is not too early to admit that it is physical punishment he subjects himself to it a cause for concern. Four years ago, Andrew Luck quit mid-preseason with the same team Richardson is now at the helm of. to the fans’ surprise. The cumulative effect of years of hits had taken its toll on his 6-foot-4, 240-pound frame. Luck was not taken into account as a running quarterback because of his sack ability, but no one told the defenders who caused him to retire early both behind the line of scrimmage and as luck would have it, brave taken on linebackers while scrambling to gain extra yards. At the age of 29, his body was worn out. He had gone under the knife to repair several shoulder injuries, lacerated a kidney, partially torn his abdominal muscle, torn the cartilage in his ribs and sprained a calf. His rushing highlights are majestic and, in retrospect, horrifying.
There is diminishing returns associated with running your hulking quarterback as a fullback. Coaches feel compelled to use them as battering rams rather than face the criticism waste their strength. TThe Colts are discovering the delicate balance between having a quarterback with the size and strength of Derrick Henry and teaching him how to wield that power in moderation. The bigger they are, the harder they fall is an axiom that applies to quarterbacks as well.
Six minutes into the Colts’ first quarter Sunday against the Houston TexansColts head coach Shane Steichen ran a reverse fake, clearing the left side of the field for Richardson to run into the end zone for his second rushing touchdown of the game. On the way in, however, safety MJ Stewart delivered a legal hit to Richardson, sending the quarterback flying through the air and bouncing his head off the turf. Somehow, Richardson’s concussion slipped through the cracks and he stayed in the game for two more possessions before being taken to the medical tent and then leaving for the locker room for good.
Structurally, Richardson is just as solid a quarterback as there is. It streamlined 240 pounds of bulk into an aerodynamic frame. However, the greatest asset is availability, and Richardson’s size could matter less and less constantly endangers himself by throwing his body. In WEek 1, Richardson scored on a planned run through the belly of the defense. He briefly left the game in the fourth quarter after appearing dazed during a similar run.
Taking hits is part of the game, but the frequency with which Steichen uses Richardson as a runner and with which Richardson If he seeks contact, he runs a high risk of receiving blows that will leave him dazed or worse. Richardson may look like an 18-wheeler, but in an ideal world where he wasn’t forced into immediate action, he would be treated with the care of a vintage muscle car.
Steichen’s previous quarterback protégé, Jalen Hurts, spent an additional season at Lincoln Riley’s Quarterback Finishing School in Oklahoma to improve his grasp of the game from the back of his hand. Richardson was set up like an unrefined block of marble. In Florida, that physicality earned him the nickname Superman because of his mutant-such as feats of speed and strength. He was so much bigger and faster than most opposing defenders – even in the SEC – that there were fewer consequences.
However, Richardson is startled by a defensive back and makes me go back to the earlier defensive goal Chris Long talks about his welcome to the NFL moment. Throughout training camp, Long watched the 6-foot-4, 240-pound running back Steven Jackson in practice, wondered if he was the most physically imposing specimen he had ever seen, and observed him as he sniffed salt packs, just so he could be leveled by him. Eagles corner Sheldon Brown and realize the NFL is a completely different animal.
In an instant, Long went from staring in awe at Jackson, wondering if it was possible to tackle him in space, to comparing it to a movie where the best you have goes out and is pumped into the mouth and everyone else is looking around wondering what to do next. After donning the red practice jersey, Richardson learns that lesson firsthand, and so do the Colts’ playcallers. The compulsion for the Colts’ coaching staff and Richardson himself to use his strength in rushing situations must be weighed against the value of protecting his long-term health.
Steichen’s job is to drill two priorities into Richardson’s head. Protect the ball and protect yourself. He has not succeeded in the latter so far. For the second time in two weeks, Richardson suffered an injury while trying to get forward for extra distance.
Three of Richardson’s offensive scores through five quarters were rushing touchdowns and one came through the air. That ratio is unsustainable. The Colts depend on Richardson’s legs because he is relatively new to diagnosing complex defensive coverages. We witnessed that inexperience in action during his freshman year at Florida, when he was one of the SEC’s Most Erratic Quarterbacks.
Without Jonathan Taylor in the Colts’ backfield, Richardson’s legs are one of Indy’s most reliable tools for activating the ground game. Richardson’s first NFL touchdown was a designed run up the middle. In Week 1, Richardson’s yardage on the ground was three times Indy’s next leading rusher, Deon Jackson. In Week 2, Zach Moss picked up 88 yards. If Richardson can’t carry the offense down the field without forcing his own body into submission, perhaps it’s time for Gardner Minshew to hold down the fort until he’s ready.
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