While Arizona Cardinals Bruce Arians has worked his way into the discussion for the 2013 NFL Coach of the Year for a second consecutive season, one point of contention throughout the campaign has been his steadfast belief in starting running back Rashard Mendenhall week in and week out.
Although Mendenhall leads the team in rushing yards (577) and rushing touchdowns (6), the six-year veteran has had an up-and-down season to say the least in Arizona. Whether because of a lingering toe injury or playing with a new offensive line, Mendenhall struggled to acclimate to his new team until about mid-November. Even heading into Sunday’s game, Arizona’s starting back is sporting a 3.1 yards/per game average — his lowest since 2008.
Acclimation has not been a problem, though, for Mendenhall’s back-up, rookie Andre Ellington. Ellington is second on the team in rushing yards (558) and rushing touchdowns (3) and leads the team with seven rushes of 20 yards or more. In addition, the former sixth-round pick out of Clemson also has 34 receptions for 351 yards and a touchdown.
And as ProFootballFocus.com noted Wednesday, Ellington is one of the league’s best backs when it comes to both inside and outside rushes after contact.
Still, the backfield roles have not changed. Mendenhall continues to be the primary back, while Ellington, who is listed at 5-foot-9, splits his touches as a running back and pass catcher.
“I’m happy coach is looking out for me,” Ellington said. “I’m not the biggest guy and when I’m carry the ball numerous times, I’m taking a lot more hits than I need to.
“The kind of way he’s using me now is that he’s using me at perfect times. I’m always healthy. I’m always playing fast. I’m actually able to making plays, get a break and then come back in and do the same thing.”
With that said, Ellington, who is coming off a career-high 87 yard receiving, was used very sparingly — three carries for three yards and two catches for 10 yards — during the Cardinals’ 34-22 loss to the Seattle Seahawks back in Week 7.
However, when asked if he get an increased work load the second time around Sunday in Seattle, Ellington was rather non-committal.
“We’ve practiced our plays this week,” said Ellington. “We have a pretty good game plan. When we get to the game, we’ll see what coach dials up. Whatever it is, I’ll be ready to take on that challenge and continue playing pretty good football.”
This season, Seattle has allowed four 100-yard rushers (Frank Gore, Arian Foster, Mike James and Zac Stacy) in 14 games.