"We did not bring him in here to be the water boy on Sunday,"
Fast forward to Week 13 against the Tennessee Titans, and Richardson is the water boy.
The former No. 3 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, Richardson has averaged a paltry 2.8 yards-per-carry since arriving in Indy. Week after week, he's been consistently outplayed by Donald Brown, who himself was considered a first round bust as a running back up until this season. Brown was drafted No. 27 overall in 2009, and had never played consistently well enough to earn the starting job.
Benching T-Rich for Brown made sense against the Titans on Sunday. Aside from the fact that Brown has outplayed Richardson all season, no team has been more willing to surrender yards to Brown than the Titans. Brown has run for more yards (477) and scored more touchdowns (5) against the Titans than any of team in his career.
As a Tennessee Titans radio announcer once stated, to the rest of the league he's Donald Brown. "Against the Titans, he's Jim Brown."
But, the decision to start Brown over Richardson had less to do with match-ups if one is looking to get to the heart of the story. The move was revealing for Chuck Pagano, who has stood by week after week and defended Richardson's poor play to the point where his words almost read as comedy.
As recently as November 18th, Pagano defended Richardson's lack of protection by, essentially, blaming the offensive line:
"You look at Trent’s runs, for whatever reason, there’s penetration (by defenders)," Pagano said. "You feel bad. A guy gets the ball handed off to him and all of a sudden, there’s a guy sitting there for whatever reason."
Two weeks later, both Richardson and veteran offensive lineman Mike McGlynn are benched for the team's biggest divisional match-up of the season.
Yes, it is safe to say that Chuck Pagano gave up on the player he once described as "a rolling ball of butcher’s knives" in the most important game of this season, and there will be fallout from that decision. Big time.
Even more disturbing than the decision to sit Richardson is the reaction he reportedly had to the news of said benching. Richardson was told earlier in the week by Pagano that he would sit for Brown. Richardson's reaction:
Chuck Pagano on Richardson's reaction: "Awesome. He is a pro. Came to work, prepared and was ready to go."— Nat Newell (@NatJNewell) December 1, 2013
Now, either Pagano is covering for Richardson with that response, just as he was likely masking his own concerns all these weeks when he said the Colts weren't worried with Richardson's lack of production, or the reasoning behind Richardson's poor numbers might be competitive drive. Anyone with any spark to compete within them would have - and should have - been upset with getting benched, especially if the reason for their lack of production was the line play, as Pagano himself essentially said it was.
@FO_ScottKacsmar no matter how you read it (trent cool w losing job or pagano sees him as needing public praise for that) not a great sign— Sigmund Bloom (@SigmundBloom) December 2, 2013
Again, the decision to bench Richardson was not necessarily a difficult one if Chuck Pagano looked at things from a performance evaluation standpoint. However, the move was complicated in terms of P.R. and public perception.
The benching completely undercuts everything Pagano and his offensive coordinator, Pep Hamilton, said about Richardson prior to the Titans game. It also makes general manager Ryan Grigson and running backs coach look like clowns. Grigson in particular.
Both men, just one month ago, where touting Richardson's work ethic and talent in an online article on the team's website:
"Trent is a great fit for us," said Ryan Grigson. "Nobody is harder on himself or expects more of himself than Trent. He defines the word ‘grit’ with his running style."
"I think what he has done in his career is just run the ball, run the play. The big ones will come," said Walker. "Don’t try to make a big play every time you get the ball. Just read the play the correct way and the big ones will come.
"That’s the approach we’re using with him, and it’s the approach he has. It takes time. He’ll have his opportunities to make plays for us. He doesn’t have to press or do anything extraordinary. Just trust what you see and finish the runs."
Yes, it's possible that, next week against the Cincinnati Bengals, Pagano could go back to starting Richardson, claiming that the move to start Brown against the Titans was a match-up he liked. But, if he does that, how will Brown react? I know that if I were him, I wouldn't be "awesome" with getting benched for a guy averaging 2.8 a carry.
The fallout from Pagano's decision is something we plan to watch closely. The trade for Richardson was the signature move of Grigson's young career as an NFL general manager, and right now it is one of the bigger busts ever. Richardson has been a colossal disappointment, and it is Grigson who has had to eat the razor blades to this point.
The question now is who will take the overall blame for Richardson's failures in 2013, the coach or the GM? By sitting Richardson, Pagano has pointed a finger at Grigson. Does Grigson appreciates that, especially considering what Grigson gave up to give Pagano the back he coveted to run his now under-performing "power running" scheme?
In many ways, this was a "damned if you do-don't" call by Pagano, and the final score validated his decision. Pagano knew he had to win this game. If he wasn't coaching for his job, then he was certainly was doing so for a few people on his staff. But, the consequences of the decision to sit Richardson involve tossing the blame for the failed deal squarely at the feet of Ryan Grigson.
It will be interesting to see how that will play out going forward.