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Many factors contribute to Arizona Cardinals’ woeful running game

TEMPE, Ariz. — Conventional wisdom would say the Arizona Cardinals will rely more on their running game now that backup quarterback Drew Stanton is under center.

If only they could rely on the running game.

Though better than the previous week against St. Louis, when Arizona’s backs combined to rush for just 24 yards on 19 carries, the 50 yards on 23 carries in Sunday’s 14-6 win over the Detroit Lions was still nothing to feel all that good about.

Through 10 games, Arizona is tied with Detroit for the second-fewest rushing yards in the NFL with just 798.

The reasons behind the struggles are many, starting with the offensive line.

“I thought it was one of our best pass protection games,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said Monday, “but we still had way too many mental errors in the running game — negative plays that killed some drives.

“That’s two weeks in a row we had too many mental errors in the running game.”

Historically speaking, the running game has never really been a strong suit for the Cardinals. Their last player to top the 1,000-yard mark was Beanie Wells, who tallied 1,047 in 2011, and before that it was Edgerrin James, who ran for 1,222 yards in 2007. They are the only two Cardinals to reach triple digits in rushing yards over the last 10 seasons.

But things were expected to be better this season, as Andre Ellington was expected to build off a rookie season in which he rushed for 652 yards while averaging 5.5 yards per tote.

He has gained 624 yards and three touchdowns on 186 carries, good enough for a 3.4 YPC average.

“We just have to continue to work at it,” Ellington said. “Every week we’re trying to get better. I feel like we’re headed in the right direction, we just have to continue doing what we do.”

Ellington has clearly been the focal point of the offense, as he is the only running back with more than 20 carries and he’s also second on the team in receptions, it still has not quite been the season everyone had in mind for the 2013 sixth-round pick out of Clemson. Along with the shaky play up front, Arians cited a foot injury Ellington has been battling all season, one that has caused him to miss a considerable amount of practice time each week.

“He’s gutting it up on Sundays, but he needs to perform better, too,” the coach said. “Right now, he’s as healthy as he’s been and we need more out of him.”

It won’t necessarily be easy this weekend as the Cardinals visit the Seattle Seahawks and their seventh-ranked run defense, but somehow, some way, the team knows it needs more from its run game.

And that’s not just because of the change from Carson Palmer to Stanton. Quite frankly, it’s difficult to win in the NFL without some measure of production on the ground.

“It’s tough; that’s something that has been, the last couple weeks, it’s been kind frustrating, especially for us in the O-line room because that’s something we hang our hat on,” left tackle Jared Veldheer said. “Being able to have production in the run game and we need to have production in the run game to have both phases really clicking.

“Because if you’re not able to run the ball, then a team can sit there with two-high safeties, play all the pass stuff. You need to be able to run the ball, and it’s something we’ll look at in film, something that we’re going to go to work on Wednesday and really be critical of ourselves as far as how we’re working that aspect in practice and what we need to do to fix it and have success in the run game. Because it’s not far away; there’s just little things here and there that we’ve got to figure out and take care of. Once we do that, I think that it will be a very dynamic aspect of our game.

“And it’s frustrating right now because you can see that, but it’s not happening. It’s tough to watch when you come in and watch the film and see that kind of stuff happening, especially on back-to-back weeks because you’d like to fix it after one week and get it back in the right direction. So that’s, really, as far as our emphasis in the O-line, I think it’s really going to be getting that run game back on track.”