ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- During the Broncos' 17-game regular-season winning streak, no running back with at least five carries against them averaged more yards per rush than Trent Richardson did in Week 16 of last year.
At the time, Richardson still appeared to be the great hope of the Cleveland Browns' offense. Now, he's part of an array of talented skill-position players comprising the Colts' attack, having been traded to Indianapolis last month for a first-round pick.
At this point, Richardson has yet to get properly untracked; he has a respectable 191 rushing yards and two touchdowns in four games, but is averaging just 3.1 yards per carry and his work in the passing game has been primarily limited to blitz pickup, as he has just two receptions. But a power runner of his ilk is exactly what Colts Head Coach Chuck Pagano wanted.
"I think to win at any level -- we talked about this since Day 1, since we got here -- you've got to be able to run the football and stop the run to give yourself a chance to win," Pagano said.
Since Richardson's arrival, the Colts are 3-1, maintaining the steady pace they've established the last two seasons, in which they are 15-7 overall. But his value might not be realized until a playoff push -- particularly if and when the Colts are forced to try and win outside of the climate-controlled Lucas Oil Stadium.
It's a dimension that changed the Colts' offense "a lot," said Broncos linebacker Wesley Woodyard.
"He gave them a dynamic rushing attack -- not saying that they didn't have it, but now they have one of the best running backs in the game and it opens up the offense."
Getting that going against a run defense that has surged to the top of the league will be a challenge. Denver's run defense flourished without Von Miller; with him back, it could be lethal.
But Richardson's success against the Broncos last December could empower the Colts to test the Broncos' run defense in a way that only the Eagles have attempted this year.
In that Week 16 game last year, Cleveland curiously de-emphasized Richardson, even though the Browns were within one or two scores in the third quarter. In the 33 minutes of the game, Richardson averaged 5.89 yards on nine carries. His last carry came three plays before a field goal drew the Browns within 14-6.
Then he never carried the football again. The Browns' next two drives went three-and-out, and Richardson wasn't given the chance to do anything to reverse it -- even though his carries were by far the most effective aspect of the Browns' game.
Denver romped, and Richardson eventually sustained a season-ending injury on the final series. But the Broncos emerged impressed -- and know that their run defense, a point of pride to this point, could face a stern test Sunday.
"He's a phenomenal back," said safety Rahim Moore. "He's one of the strongest backs I've ever played against in my life. He's got so much power, has good vision (and) he's tough."
One of Richardson's attributes is his ability to turn bad plays into ones that at least provide a bit of production -- enough to keep the entire offense from getting bogged down.
"Richardson gets those twos and fews, and before you know it, he'll break one out and he's gone," said Moore.
Added Woodyard: "He keeps his legs moving all the time and I think a lot of running backs don't do that ... Even if he has two guys under him, he's still chopping his legs. To be a great running back, that's what a great running back does -- always moving his legs."