INDIANAPOLIS -- The mood at the Colts' facility early Wednesday was somber, which is what happens when the head coach starts his press conference by announcing the surprising news that another player -- in this case, tight end Dwayne Allen -- is done for the season with an injury.
That was the third offensive starter gone in the space of one week, and as much as coach Chuck Pagano tried to refute it, you got the feeling that the team might have been snakebitten, in addition to suddenly having pretty significant protection issues.
A few minutes later, quarterback Andrew Luck mentioned the need to be a little cold-blooded when considering these things, gesturing over his shoulder to the locker beside him, which had been inhabited by running back Vick Ballard until he suffered a season-ending knee injury less than a week ago. Combined with the torn quadriceps suffered by guard Donald Thomas -- and the impending visit to face one of the NFL's best defenses in San Francisco -- and the Colts' offense, constructed around arguably the best young quarterback in the league, had a feeling of vulnerability.
Those protection issues weren't solved by the stunning late-day trade for Trent Richardson -- you don't give up a first-round draft pick to acquire one of the league's best running backs just to pick up a blitzer. But it does signal a desire by the Colts to not stand still, to not cede a season because of some bad luck and -- not incidentally -- to give offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton the kind of power running game he and Luck had at Stanford.
The Colts' offense already was trending more conservative this season. Farewell to the "chunk" plays favored by Bruce Arians, hello to the shorter routes Hamilton leans toward, which has meant just three of Luck's 43 completions have gained at least 25 yards. Even in a pass-happy game, acquiring a bruising running back like Richardson can only enhance Hamilton's plans and take some of the opposing defenses' focus off Luck.
For Richardson, who had 950 rushing yards last season, the Colts should be refreshing. Because of the need to respect Luck, defenses will not be able to stack the box against Richardson, giving him more room to run. Richardson was disappointed in how few times he had touched the ball already this season, but he was a workhorse for the Cleveland Browns -- he rushed for 11 touchdowns last season -- and now his statistics should better reflect his talent, including his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. He did that 51 times last season in Cleveland. Before the Colts acquired Richardson, their opponents did not have to worry much about a running game. Now they must plan how to stop it.
What this says about the Browns is another matter entirely. Cleveland fans should start watching a lot of college football because the massive rebuilding is coming in the 2014 NFL Draft, when the Browns will have multiple picks in the first, third and fourth rounds and almost certainly will target a new quarterback.
For those despairing for the Browns' future, perhaps they should look no further than the Colts. They received a gift when they had the first pick of the 2012 draft and Luck was waiting to be selected. The Browns made a run at getting in position to land Robert Griffin III at No. 2, but they failed. They took Richardson at No. 3 instead, but now a new regime will try to rectify that swing and miss.
In the meantime, Ryan Grigson has proven to be fearless in the year and a half he has been at the Colts' controls. He has executed a walloping 16 trades as general manager -- none bigger than this one. A good case can be made that protection for Luck is a more pressing immediate need, but Grigson now has two of the top three players in the 2012 draft on his offense.
Trading a first-round pick for Richardson is a gamble, but it also is an all-in move. There will be no waiting for the offense to mature, but then again, the Colts never were much interested in rebuilding. They made a magical run to the playoffs last season in what was supposed to be the first year of a renovation. Now they see an opening to make a Super Bowl push in a weakened AFC this season, and they are going for it.
They might not make it, but it won't be for a lack of trying. Think that's not admirable? Ask a Cleveland Browns fan.
Follow Judy Battista on Twitter @judybattista.