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Trent Richardson – How Good Is He in Pass Protection?

Richardson exhibiting proper blocking technique

Richardson exhibiting proper blocking technique.

I have some bigger thoughts on the Trent Richardson trade, but I want to first address a statistic I’ve seen cited frequently the past few days. You’ve probably heard some variation on the following, perhaps first reported by ESPN:

Since the start of 2012 with Richardson on the field, Browns quarterbacks were sacked on 4.8 percent of dropbacks. With Richardson off the field, Browns quarterbacks were sacked on 9.4 percent of dropbacks.

Colts quarterbacks have been sacked on 6.2 percent of dropbacks since the start of last season, the ninth-highest rate in the league.

I’ll assume the numbers are accurate, but stats like that don’t mean anything out of context. The conclusion isn’t spelled out, but the reader is asked to connect the dots: Richardson is good at pass protection and Indianapolis could use an upgrade in that department, so this is another reason to like the trade for the Colts. But when is Richardson most likely to be off the field? In obvious passing situations, which happens to be the most likely time the Browns would be sacked.

Brandon Weeden and other Cleveland quarterbacks were sacked 36 times last year and 11 times in the first two games of 2013. First, we should note that Thaddeus Lewis started in week 17 last year against the Steelers — his only start of the year, and the only game Richardson has missed in his pro career. He was sacked four times on 36 dropbacks, an 11.1% rate. So let’s throw that game out, since nobody cares about Lewis’ sack rate.

According to NFLGSIS, Richardson was not on the field for 22 of the 43 sacks of Browns quarterbacks over the last year and two games. But the fine print is the real story: only five of those 22 sacks came on 1st or 2nd down, only seven came when Cleveland had the lead, and only three of those sacks occured when the Browns needed fewer than seven yards for a first down. Take a look:

09-09-2012Eagles306:07110Brandon Weeden sacked by Fletcher Cox for -7 yards. Penalty on PHI: Roughing the Passer; 15 yards310-7
09-16-2012Bengals113:5438Brandon Weeden sacked by Michael Johnson for -5 yards000
09-16-2012Bengals200:54110Brandon Weeden sacked by Vincent Rey for -8 yards1017-7
09-23-2012Bills414:57312Brandon Weeden sacked by Mark Anderson for -11 yards. Penalty on Mitchell Schwartz: Offensive Holding (Declined)1417-3
09-27-2012Ravens209:1237Brandon Weeden sacked by Paul Kruger for -6 yards09-9
10-28-2012Chargers300:21310Brandon Weeden sacked by Corey Liuget for -9 yards761
10-28-2012Chargers402:5436Brandon Weeden sacked by Melvin Ingram and Shaun Phillips for -3 yards761
11-04-2012Ravens310:05310Brandon Weeden sacked by Dannell Ellerbe for -2 yards914-5
11-18-2012Cowboys310:3139Brandon Weeden sacked by Jason Hatcher and DeMarcus Ware for -7 yards13013
12-02-2012Raiders413:1027Brandon Weeden sacked by Lamarr Houston for -11 yards13103
12-23-2012Broncos311:3239Brandon Weeden sacked by Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil for -7 yards. Penalty on Mitchell Schwartz: Offensive Holding (Declined)314-11
12-23-2012Broncos303:54319Colt McCoy sacked by Derek Wolfe for -3 yards621-15
12-23-2012Broncos404:02410Colt McCoy sacked by Elvis Dumervil for -8 yards1231-19
12-23-2012Broncos400:44413Colt McCoy sacked by Wesley Woodyard for -7 yards1234-22
09-08-2013Dolphins201:17115Brandon Weeden sacked by Cameron Wake and Randy Starks for -6 yards06-6
09-08-2013Dolphins309:33210Brandon Weeden sacked by Cameron Wake for -8 yards761
09-08-2013Dolphins405:3642Brandon Weeden sacked by Cameron Wake for -8 yards1020-10
09-08-2013Dolphins402:17210Brandon Weeden sacked by Randy Starks for -4 yards1023-13
09-08-2013Dolphins401:55319Brandon Weeden sacked by Dion Jordan for -10 yards. Penalty on Dion Jordan: Face Mask (15 Yards); 15 yards1023-13
09-15-2013Ravens206:02310Brandon Weeden sacked by Elvis Dumervil for -9 yards303
09-15-2013Ravens202:0034Brandon Weeden sacked by Daryl Smith and Arthur Brown for -9 yards303
09-15-2013Ravens413:05310Brandon Weeden sacked by Daryl Smith for -10 yards67-1

I’ll buy that Browns quarterbacks were sacked much less frequently when Richardson was on the field. But that’s because Richardson wasn’t on the field when the team faced 3rd and 19 trailing by two touchdowns, and it is impossible to deduct from this information that his presence (instead of another running back) would have changed the team’s fate on such a play.

Here’s another way to spin the numbers to imply that Richardson is a poor pass blocker: Cleveland quarterbacks were sacked thirteen times on 1st-and-10, and Richardson was on the field for eleven of them. That’s just as misleading, of course, because Richardson is usually on the field on 1st-and-10.

09-09-2012Eagles313:42110Brandon Weeden sacked by Jason Babin for -7 yards. Brandon Weeden fumbles (forced by Jason Babin); recovered by Joe Thomas at CLE-19 and returned for 7 yards310-7
09-23-2012Bills108:24212Brandon Weeden sacked by Kyle Williams for -3 yards07-7
09-23-2012Bills204:10110Brandon Weeden sacked by Mario Williams for -6 yards014-14
09-23-2012Bills404:59110Brandon Weeden sacked by Marcell Dareus and Mario Williams for -10 yards1424-10
10-14-2012Bengals204:3426Brandon Weeden sacked by Wallace Gilberry for -9 yards770
10-14-2012Bengals306:4931Brandon Weeden sacked by Robert Geathers for -4 yards1014-4
11-18-2012Cowboys405:52210Brandon Weeden sacked by Anthony Spencer for -11 yards. Brandon Weeden fumbles (forced by Anthony Spencer); recovered by Anthony Spencer at CLE-181317-4
11-25-2012Steelers113:49110Brandon Weeden sacked by James Harrison for -8 yards07-7
11-25-2012Steelers203:12110Brandon Weeden sacked by Jason Worilds for -7 yards1376
11-25-2012Steelers410:48212Brandon Weeden sacked by Brett Keisel for -9 yards20146
11-25-2012Steelers407:51110Brandon Weeden sacked by Jason Worilds for -4 yards20146
12-09-2012Chiefs113:3426Brandon Weeden sacked by Tamba Hali for -5 yards07-7
12-09-2012Chiefs206:3327Brandon Weeden sacked by Tyson Jackson for -6 yards1073
12-09-2012Chiefs201:16110Brandon Weeden sacked by Tamba Hali for -8 yards1073
12-16-2012Redskins410:5223Brandon Weeden sacked by Rob Jackson for -4 yards. Brandon Weeden fumbles (forced by Rob Jackson); recovered by Brandon Weeden at CLE-311431-17
12-16-2012Redskins404:1831Brandon Weeden sacked by Barry Cofield for -7 yards2138-17
12-23-2012Broncos304:27210Brandon Weeden sacked by Von Miller for -9 yards621-15
12-23-2012Broncos401:55110Colt McCoy sacked by Elvis Dumervil and Wesley Woodyard for -7 yards1234-22
09-08-2013Dolphins413:34110Brandon Weeden sacked by Derrick Shelby for -9 yards. Brandon Weeden fumbles (forced by Derrick Shelby); recovered by Joe Thomas at CLE-391013-3
09-15-2013Ravens207:30110Brandon Weeden sacked by Terrell Suggs for -2 yards303
09-15-2013Ravens301:01110Brandon Weeden sacked by Arthur Jones for -9 yards67-1

On average, the sacks without Richardson occurred on down 2.7, with 10 yards to go, and the Browns trailing by 5.3 points. With Richardson, the average down was 1.6, the yards to go was 8.5, and Cleveland trailed by 5.1 points. Reports are varied as to Richardson’s actual pass-blocking ability, but it’s pretty clear to me that you can’t judge him using a “with or without you” type of statistic. The fact that he was only on the field for two third down sacks — and both were on 3rd-and-1 — is probably more of an indictment of his pass blocking than anything else.

Pro Football Focus gave Richardson a -2.6 rating in pass protection last year, but that’s far less interesting than the other data they provide. According to PFF, Richardson was on the field for 725 snaps last year. The Browns passed on just 55.3% of Richardson’s snaps, compared to 92% for backup Chris Ogbonnaya. Despite being on the field for just 153 snaps, Ogbonnaya was in on 141 pass plays, compared to just 401 for Richardson. In other words, the Browns tended to replace Richardson with “silent G” in obvious passing situations.

Also of note: when Richardson was on the field on a passing play, PFF has him pass blocking just 17% of the time, while Ogbonnaya was blocking on 27% of his passing snaps. That doesn’t mean Richardson is a poor blocker — having him as a safety valve or running a route isn’t a bad idea or an indictment of his skills — but it does paint a picture of how Cleveland used him. The Browns deployed Richardson as a runner, and either took him off the field or had him as a potential target on most pass plays. That’s hardly the takeaway you would get, though, if you look at the Browns’ sack rate with and without Richardson. The real flaw is to use the “with or without you” sack nuumbers and imply that Richardson will help keep Andrew Luck’s jersey clean. Again, Richardson may or may not be great in pass protection — most of the folks I’ve spoken with say he’s average, and I don’t claim to have anything to add to that — but the Browns sack rate with him on the field is evidence of only one thing: Cleveland rarely asked him to pass block.

  • First, love this.

    Second, that Ogbonnaya tendency reminded me of a similar stat I found about Anthony Dixon, and used in his player comment in FOA2013: Last year, he had 21 touches on only 32 offensive snaps. It kind of shocks me that, with all the self-scouting teams do, there are still these kinds of “tipped pitches” all over the place.

    • Chase Stuart

      Thanks, Danny. Glad you enjoyed.

  • Guru

    Well of course ESPN would make this claim. They’re a media corporation with a stable of (mostly) sensationalist personalities and writers; their job is to spin narratives, not achieve objectivity.

    I like Trent Richardson, and I think he’ll be a valuable back for the Colts, but ESPN has insulted the intelligent observer too often to be considered a source of transparent analysis.

    • Chase Stuart

      True — but I suppose I had higher hopes that my fellow bloggers would not also be picking up and running with that stat.

  • Guru

    I’m sure that if the Colts stay winning, ESPN will point to their “improved” run game with Richardson in the lineup. Even though the Colts actually ran the ball well this season (with Luck and their backs) prior to the trade.

    But only after they commit a majority of airtime to convince the casual fan that Robert Griffin III is the sole reason for the Washington Redskins 0-3 record.

  • Tim

    Agree on this stat being misleading and not very useful.

    The storyline that I’ve seen that did seem to make sense was this: Ahmad Bradshaw cannot bear the brunt of a full RB workload, due to his foot issues. However, he’s an excellent pass blocker. Richardson’s presence gives the Colts a pretty good RB from a running perspective, and bumps Bradshaw down the depth chart to 3rd down back and pass-blocking specialist, a role in which he is excellent.

    Now, a first round pick is a lot to pay for that, but I could see how the Colts’ pass protection would be improved by freeing up Bradshaw to serve in that role more fully.

  • Chase,
    Excellent read sir. I was looking for info on Trent’s pass blocking and stumbled onto this. While not ‘new’ it was still a very well done article. Thank You!

  • Change is unpreventable.