This is what we know about the Cardinals’ burgeoning running game and their running back situation:
1) Coach Bruce Arians has said he would like to get rookie running back Andre Ellington around 20 touches a game. He had 17 in his most recent game against Atlanta — 15 carries, two receptions — and Arians said the uptick, in his mind, might be best suited as a receiver to get Ellington into space.
2) Veteran Rashard Mendenhall is not only back practicing, but he will start Sunday, Arians said Friday (much to the chagrin of those out there who want it to be Ellington).
3) The two are going to split time. And Ellington isn’t the only dynamic rookie in such a situation. The Bengals are doing the same, for the same reasons, with vet BenJarvus Green-Ellis and newcomer Giovani Bernard.
Are 20 touches enough for Ellington? Well, thanks to some research by my new co-worker Kyle Odegard (you’ve seen his work here and here and here), if the Cards get Ellington 20 touches, that’s right around the mark many of the top backs get. Here are some interesting numbers:
|Player||Team||Touches per game|
* – Leaves out Sept. 15 game Lacy left due to injury. ** — Leaves out past two games shortened due to injury
Obviously Ellington’s touch average is well below that, but I think the Cards know they need to commit to Ellington more the rest of the season. Even the ultimate “workhorse” back, Adrian Peterson, isn’t getting the ball significantly more. Yes, a guy like Jamaal Charles is getting 24 touches — and he is listed at the exact same 5-11, 199 as Ellington — and perhaps Ellington will get to that point. But Charles wasn’t getting the ball that much as a rookie, and there is probably a reason for that.
I, like many, am anxious to see the post-154-yards-for-Ellington workload now that Mendenhall is back. It’ll be one of the top things to watch Sunday.
Tags: Andre Ellington, Bruce Arians, Rashard Mendenhall, run game
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Last week, Darnell Dockett insisted he didn’t want to provide any bulletin board material for the 49ers. The Cards seemed to be careful about that, and there wasn’t much coming out of San Francisco either, until Pro Bowl linebacker Patrick Willis decided to talk about the Cardinals’ running game.
“We’re not worried about the run,” Willis told Bay Area reporters. “We know that they’re not going to run the ball on us. They will not run the ball on us.”
OK, so it’s not exactly guaranteeing a win. But it is an interesting comment given that the Cards have run the ball much better over the last five games. In that span the Cards are averaging 135 rushing yards per game and almost five yards a carry. The Cards had 113 yards rushing (and averaged 4.5 yards a carry) against the Vikings, who had the third-best rushing defense in the league. The 49ers are fifth against the run.
Now, the 49ers have reason to be confident, seeing they held the Cards to 40 rushing yards in the teams’ first meeting. And part of Willis’ point is that the Cards have a very good passing game, one that will be much better tonight with a healthy Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston compared to the first meeting. Still, Tim Hightower is running the ball well much better than before (Hightower had just 15 yards on eight carries in the opener; he has 215 yards on just 31 carries the past three games) and Beanie Wells is improved as well. It would seem the Cards have a chance to prove Willis otherwise.
Tags: 49ers, Anquan Boldin, Beanie Wells, Patrick Willis, run game, Steve Breaston, Tim Hightower
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