Second Read: Trent Richardson already a star, and other Week 5 observations
“Second Read” rewinds the tape after each NFL weekend to determine why the games played out the way that they did … and what it all may mean for the rest of the season.
His team may not win many (check that: any) games this season, but Trent Richardson is on his way to disproving the argument that teams should not use high draft picks on running backs.
Richardson’s multifaceted abilities were on display again Sunday in Cleveland’s loss to the Giants. He didn’t waste any time announcing his presence in that one, either, bursting through the line on his second carry of the game and racing into the end zone nearly untouched.
The No. 3 pick in the 2012 draft finished the day with 85 yards on 17 carries (a 5.0 yards-per-carry average) and added 47 receiving yards on five catches.
And for as good as Richardson is on the ground, he might do his best work catching passes out of the backfield. On multiple occasions Sunday, Richardson took a screen or dump-off pass and created something out of nothing — of the 47 yards he had in the pass game, 100 percent came after the catch. In fact, Richardson has more yards after the catch than he does total yards this season: 196 to 169, meaning that he’s taking those short completions and turning them into quality plays.
Give Brandon Weeden a little more time to settle in or put some quality, field-stretching weapons out at WR to open up the defense, and Richardson could put up some monster numbers in the next few seasons.
What else went down in Week 5? After rewatching the tape, here’s one bonus observation per game:
1. Atlanta’s offense was out of whack in the first half: The undefeated Falcons struggled to a 7-7 halftime tie in Washington and needed a pair of fourth-quarter rallies — plus some help from Kirk Cousins — to move to 5-0. Give a lot of credit to the Redskins for forcing Atlanta out of its comfort zone, especially early. Matt Ryan threw 32 passes in the first half, but he fired only four of those attempts more than 15 yards downfield, and three of those deep shots resulted in incompletions to Julio Jones. Washington basically kept everything within a 10-yard window, limiting the impact of Jones and Roddy White.
2. Has BenJarvus Green-Ellis hit the wall?: Miami’s run defense is one of the best in the league right now, so struggling to find room against it is no great embarrassment. But Green-Ellis had his worst game of 2012, by far, on Sunday (nine carries, 14 yards) and his production has fallen off since a strong opening game at Baltimore. One issue: The Bengals don’t seem willing or able to run left. Green-Ellis headed left of center just once, for a two-yard loss, and Cincinnati’s only positive gain outside the tackle in that direction came on an eight-yarder by Bernard Scott.
3. Cardinals’ pass-protection issues go way beyond Bobby Massie: It’s no secret at this point that Massie is overmatched as a starting RT right now, but Arizona would have an easier time covering that up if the rest of the line was solid. Problem is, it’s not. Not even close. You could even make a case that D’Anthony Batiste, at left tackle, is a bigger issue. He was abused by Robert Quinn on Thursday night. Like Massie, Batiste has neither the speed nor strength to hold up against elite pass rushers.
4. Donald Brown stretched the Green Bay D: Brown (and Indianapolis’ run game as a whole) was subpar in Weeks 1-3, making Andrew Luck’s life harder. But Brown put up 84 yards on Sunday, with huge chunks of that yardage coming because he was able to turn the corner outside. That helped the Colts spread the field horizontally, opening up some seams over the middle as a result.
5. Cecil Shorts needs to play: Blaine Gabbert threw to Shorts three times on Sunday. He made one strong grab in front of a defender on a slant route for a first down, hauled in another one-handed over his shoulder deep, and beat his defender long only to have Gabbert overthrow him on a third play. So, why isn’t Shorts seeing the field more? He was in for just 15 snaps Sunday; undrafted free agent Kevin Elliott, by comparison, drew 34. For a team in need of playmakers, Shorts’ struggle to get playing time is hard to figure.
6. Bobby Wagner is the NFL’s most underrated rookie: I brought up this point on Twitter, too (shameless plug: @ChrisBurke_SI), but it’s worth repeating. Wagner has been very solid early for Seattle and had his best game Sunday, recording five tackles and two sacks. He’s extremely quick to the football — he made multiple plays against Carolina by chasing the ball to the boundary.
7. The Bills’ D-line is shockingly bad: Mario Williams is taking a lot of the heat here (and he deserves some of it), but it’s a bit akin to railing on a cleanup hitter in baseball for not driving home runs even though no one else can get on base. Buffalo had a goal-line stand early in San Francisco, but other than that, its front spent the day either running itself out of position or getting blown back. The worst offender? Marcell Dareus, who San Francisco attacked again and again.
8. Junior Galette a bright spot for the Saints: There hasn’t been much to get excited about on New Orleans’ D, but Galette continues to emerge as a reliable player. He worked San Diego’s Jeromey Clary over Sunday night, utilizing a quick and effective spin move to get at Philip Rivers.
9. Texans still have issues at WR: Maybe rookies DeVier Posey or Keshawn Martin step up as the season goes along, but as of Monday night, Houston’s offense is in the same boat it was last year. Namely, that if Andre Johnson falls to injury (or is limited by great coverage, as he was Monday), there aren’t a lot of other options. Aside from TE Owen Daniels, Houston’s pass catchers still have trouble creating space on their own — perhaps the lone flaw for an otherwise Super Bowl-ready Houston team.
10. Brandon Weeden’s big mistake: We’ve talked here before about how Weeden seems to struggle when he has to come off his primary read. Well, that issue bit him again Sunday — and helped turn the game in the Giants’ favor. On a 3rd-and-1 with Cleveland up late in the second quarter, Weeden rolled right and looked for Jordon Norwood in the flat. He was covered, so Weeden tried to come back across his body to Josh Gordon. His pass sailed over Gordon and into the arms of New York’s Stevie Brown. It was an awful decision and an even worse pass. Unfortunately for Weeden, Cleveland doesn’t have the talent to give him any margin for error in situations like those.
11. Jason Worilds stepped up for Pittsburgh: Worilds has not always been a top-flight depth guy at LB for the Steelers, but he might have been their best defender Sunday against Philadelphia. He played at a surprisingly quick pace off the edge, alternating between getting into the Eagles’ backfield and making plays in space. With LaMarr Woodley banged up, Pittsburgh needs more of that from Worilds.
12. Chiefs’ zone blocking gave Baltimore fits: If not for four turnovers, the Chiefs probably would have downed Baltimore on Sunday, thanks mainly to Jamaal Charles. He rushed for 140 yards on 30 carries, with the majority of his gains coming from quick, one-cut bursts. Kansas City executed its zone blocking well, stretching the Ravens, and in the process, opening cutback holes for Charles to burst through. Baltimore will have to solve those issues in case it runs into Houston for a second consecutive year in the postseason.
13. New England could not cover Demaryius Thomas: The Patriots’ pass defense continues to improve, but it had no answers for Thomas on Sunday. It took Denver longer than it should have to fully take advantage of that — Thomas was targeted 10 times and caught nine balls for 188 yards. Teams with elite receivers are going to pose problems for the Patriots, especially if Devin McCourty struggles as he did Sunday.
14. Christian Ponder not fazed by the blitz: Ponder finally threw his first two interceptions of the season Sunday, but the Vikings continue to be very intelligent with how they use him — and Ponder keeps making great decisions. Tennessee blitzed 10 times on passing plays Sunday, and Ponder went 7 of 10 throwing. He did so in a variety of ways, too, using his underneath weapons (Adrian Peterson, Kyle Rudolph, etc.) but also found success multiple times by throwing into the blitz, including on one connection to Devin Aromashodu and a deep ball to Percy Harvin. That’s a big sign of maturation from Ponder, part of why the Vikings are 4-1.