Powerful, fast and compact, Cleveland Browns rookie running back Trent Richardson has quickly established himself as a major threat to NFL defenses.
Drafted third overall out of Alabama, the former Crimson Tide star has already made an impact for the Browns with 470 rushing yards and five touchdowns.
Coming off a career-high 122 yards in a 7-6 victory over the San Diego Chargers, Richardson represents a major obstacle Sunday for a reeling Ravens defense.
The Ravens (5-2) have fallen to 30th in the NFL in run defense, surrendering 142.9 yards per game.
They've given up 622 rushing yards over the past three games: 214 yards against the Kansas City Chiefs, a franchise-record 227 yards against the Dallas Cowboys and 181 rushing yards to the Houston Texans.
Now, here comes Richardson.
"The past few games we've given up a bunch of running yards, and, even if it wasn't Trent out there Sunday, we've got to stop the run," said rookie outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw, Richardson's former teammate at Alabama. "Watching last week's game, Trent was very impressive. We've got to slow him down. Of course, he's a downhill runner. He squares his shoulder and picks up yards."
Arm tackling has been one of the bigger symptoms of the Ravens' problem stopping the run. Anything less than wrapping up and executing a solid form tackle figures to be an ineffective gambit against Richardson, who's built low to the ground at 5-foot-9, 230 pounds.
The NFL's third-ranked defense from lat season has already allowed 1,000 rushing yards overall this season, giving up an average of four yards per carry.
So, the reigning AFC North champions are fully aware of what's likely coming Sunday: a heavy dose or Richardson to the left, to the right and up the middle.
"I would say they are going to run the ball," defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. "I wouldn’t think that would be rocket science. That’s what they do best anyhow, and right now we haven’t done well defending the run, especially the last three games. So, that’s what we are expecting them to do.
"What we have to gear up and do scheme-wise and also technique-wise, we have to play better against the run. That’s what we are expecting. I expect that’s what they are going to do. We have to get up there and stop it.”
Among all rookies, Richardson is tied for first in points scored (36), second in receptions (25), third in total yards from scrimmage (679), third in first downs (27) and fourth in rushing yards.
"A hoss, a workhorse," strong safety Bernard Pollard said of Richardson. "That's why they drafted him as high as they did, and he deserves it. We got to know this guy will do everything he can to get extra yards. We have to gang-tackle him."
Ravens Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice joked that he's so impressed with the rookie standout that he wants to exchange jerseys with Richardson after the game.
"Of course. I’m a huge fan of his," Rice said. "I might have to go ahead and tell Trent,‘Let me borrow one of those jerseys.’ I might not even have to exchange with him. I’m just going to ask for his. He’s a great back."
Rice's scouting report on Richardson sounds like a tough assignment for any defense regardless of how stout they are against the run.
“No. 1, he’s very powerful," Rice said. "The biggest thing is that he’s short. I think he weighs about 20 more pounds than me, and he’s fast, explosive and he never goes down on the first hit.
"It’s always the first hit, and then he’s dragging you for an extra five yards. I think that’s pretty impressive as a running back.”
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