This post comes from Justin Becker of FantasyFootballOverdose.com. You can follow him on Twitter @NBAandNFLInfo or on the Fantasy Football Overdose Google+ Page, and for more NFL Fantasy Projections visit Fantasy Football Overdose.
The Indianapolis Colts have been on a tear. After starting the 2014 NFL season off in an 0-2 hole, they’ve stormed back with two blowout wins against AFC South divisional foes. Suddenly they’re back at .500 and aiming to go up to 3-2 when they take on the Baltimore Ravens in week five.
A huge part of their rise has been a commitment to a balanced offense. While they haven’t taken off on the ground quite like they’d want to, a solid mix of Trent Richardson and Ahmad Bradshaw has been enough lately to keep defenses honest and allow quarterback Andrew Luck to go off. And of off, he has.
Naturally, if the Colts wish for Luck to keep up his red hot run, they’ll need to keep their running game going. As good as Luck (or any top level quarterback) can be, few are very successful on a consistent basis if defenses know you either won’t run or can’t run. Suddenly Luck could be pressured more than ever and he could inevitably be forced into mistakes. Sacks, fumbles and interceptions could pile up and the reliable, potent offense we’re seeing out of Indy right now could cease to exist.
That’s especially possible against an opponent like the Ravens, who aren’t very good against the pass, but are a tough unit to run on. Some may look at that pass defense ranking and think Luck is golden and the Colts will throw all over Baltimore. They’re at home, after all.
However, without the threat of a consistent running game, that may not happen. Needless to say, we can fully expect the Colts to try to establish their ground game in week five. They simply can’t afford not to. They do seem to have realized that Luck is their bread and butter and they have to pass to set up the run, but they clearly are going to do all they can do make the two work together.
The question for fantasy owners, though, with a tough matchup and two backs sharing the load, who can you really trust? Between Richardson and Bradshaw, who is the better play in fantasy football this week?
It’s not an easy call, as Richardson is without a doubt the touch hog right now, but he definitely does not carry Bradshaw’s explosiveness and isn’t quite as effective as a receiver out of the backfield. It’s also tough to gauge because the Colts want Richardson to succeed so badly and the two seem to have flip-flopped roles more than once in just four weeks.
Through four games, Richardson has nearly doubled Bradshaw’s rushing attempts (61 to 34), yet Bradshaw has been the more effective rusher (5.4 yards per carry to just 3.3). In the receiving department, T-Rich is losing, with 11 catches to Bradshaw’s 14.
Our two most recent samples are a tad troubling for fantasy owners making this decision, as Bradshaw completely out-performed Richardson in week three with 83 total yards and a touchdown, but was outdone by Richardson in week four, when T-Rich scored and put up 99 total yards.
At least, that’s the feel fantasy owners got. Perhaps that was because Richardson ran the ball over twice as much (20 carries to just 9 for Bradshaw) in week four and scored for the first time in 2014.
A closer look shows Bradshaw also scored, though, and despite touching the ball a whopping 13 less times than T-Rich, Bradshaw still put up 52 total yards.
With tough sledding coming in week five with the Ravens in town, Bradshaw is going to be the better play. He’s not just the safer play, but he also carries more upside. With Baltimore having a solid defense, Indy needs a more trustworthy receiver and pass-blocker. That’s Bradshaw in both areas. They also are going to need someone who can maximize their blocking and get yardage that isn’t even initially there. Those are two things Richardson is flat-out terrible at.
Of course, there is always that off chance that the Colts just ignore Bradshaw completely, or the Ravens shut them both down. But over the course of the season, we’ve seen Bradshaw remain involved on passing downs and in goal-line situations. Richardson continues to inexplicably get more touches, but in a big game at home, Indy can’t afford to be silly with how they split the touches up. Bradshaw will likely get the ball less, but he’s the better player and does more. Bradshaw needs to be the Colts running back you use in fantasy football in week five.