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Cardinals vs. Bengals preview: Little concern over running game

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Through two preseason games, the Arizona Cardinals have run for 177 yards on 71 carries.

In no world is a 2.49 yards-per-carry average considered good, and no doubt the team will need to fare better on the ground if the offense is to consistently move the ball.

But while it would be nice to see those numbers improve Sunday when the Cardinals host the Cincinnati Bengals in their third preseason game, it’s not really as much of a concern as one might think.

“Numbers are what they are,” said head coach Bruce Arians. “We’ve run it a bunch, we’ve run it effectively. I’m not concerned at all.

“I never put stock in running-game numbers. It’s points, it’s first downs, it’s third-down conversions, red-zone conversions. You run the ball 30 times for 200 yards, you don’t get a damn point for it.”

The Cardinals have seemed to make plays on the ground when they’ve needed to, earning 12 first downs and two touchdowns via the run. But it’s not as if the Cardinals can lean on a track record of success in that department.

Last season, Arizona ranked 23rd in the NFL with 1,540 rushing yards, while their 3.6 yards-per-carry average was tied for just 27th-best.

A rookie sensation last year, Andre Ellington was elevated to the number one spot on the depth chart when leading rusher Rashard Mendenhall retired. While that may ultimately improve matters, there are no guarantees.

Regardless, there seems to be less worry about what Ellington can do and more about the players behind him.

Jonathan Dwyer and Stepfan Taylor, Ellington’s two primary backups, have combined for 43 yards on 26 carries in two games, with one touchdown.

But, as Dwyer said, preseason play simply does not offer running backs enough time for statistics to tell the entire story.

“I think that we’re playing at a high level,” he said. “We’ve been pretty much doing what we’ve need to do, which is the most important things — taking care of the football and making plays in the passing game.

“So the running game and all that, I think we’ll be able to do a lot more this week because we’ll play a little longer, but we’re excited for this season. We know what we’re going to do once we get the opportunity during the season.”

That’s not to say the numbers don’t matter, as Taylor admitted the running backs would like to “put on a show and get good yards and things like that.” But no one in the locker room seems to be looking at the stats as reason to worry.

“It’s tough because you want to get those yards, and we’re fighting for them,” Taylor said, adding that a running game’s effectiveness can’t be judged on yards alone.

“But at the same time, you’ve got to have production. We just have to trust it, and 11 guys have to do their job on the play.”

And that’s how the team sees it. While eye-popping numbers would be more fun to look at, they wouldn’t necessarily be indicative of a running game that is going to be one of the league’s best. Preseason exists for teams and players to work on specific things with different players — and sometimes, success is not easily measured.

After all, there’s a reason that preseason rushing leaders are often unknown players who are not expected to have major roles with their respective teams.

“Everybody expects us to run for 200 yards a game in only a short amount of time in the preseason with the amount of touches we get. It doesn’t work like that. It’s not that easy,” Dwyer said.

“I know if [people] look around the league, not many guys are running the ball really well, and the guy who is usually the guy at the end is because he’s getting the most touches more than anything. So I think that everybody needs just to relax and just be excited for when the season gets here because we’ll be where we need to be.”

Things to watch for

– Early in camp, it looked like Chandler Catanzaro had the edge in the placekicker competition, but Jay Feely played well last week in Minnesota and looked to have the better week in practice. Both kickers will play a half Sunday (Feely first, Catanzaro second), and whoever fares better is likely to win the job.

– After not getting any reps during the Minnesota game, QB Logan Thomas was back on the field this week preparing for Sunday. Arians said Thomas will play in the fourth quarter, and while he’s probably not fighting for a job, it would be nice to see him replicate his performance from the first preseason game when he completed 11 of 12 passes.

– With Kevin Minter still out, look for Kenny Demens to get the start at inside linebacker next to Larry Foote. Demens has gone from roster hopeful to key special-teams performer to possible Week 1 starter.

– Offensive lineman Ted Larsen has had an outstanding training camp, and after filling in for an injured Lyle Sendlein at center, he will move to left guard in place of Jonathan Cooper. Cooper has been slow to recover from a turf toe injury, and right now the job is Larsen’s to lose. Can he play well enough to keep it and eventually hold off the team’s 2013 first-round pick?

– Lyle Sendlein had been out since early in camp, but he’s back and looking to get into regular-season form. How rusty is he? We’ll find out.

– We have yet to see wide receiver Michael Floyd or linebacker John Abraham in the preseason. Should both men see snaps Sunday, it will be interesting to see how they fare.

– Frostee Rucker will be the starter at defensive tackle in place of Darnell Dockett, and nothing that has occurred during training camp has given the impression that he will be unable to handle the job. The Cardinals would certainly like that to continue against the Bengals, one of Rucker’s former teams.

– Safety Deone Bucannon has looked better and better with every day that has passed, particularly in coverage. Continuing that trend, especially in a game, would go a long way toward adding to the team’s versatility when the season begins.