Andre Ellington earns increased role in Cardinals' backfield
If you ask head coach Bruce Arians, the answer is simple - Ellington is not big enough to handle a full workload. A 5'9'' rookie who weighs just under 200 pounds, Ellington does not have the body type to endure constant collisions between the tackles. Though he is averaging an outrageous 7.7 yards per carry on the year, the Cardinals feel that they will lose their electrifying running back to injury if they work him as they would a player of Mendenhall's size (5'11'', 210 pounds).
Thanks to Ellington's constant eye-popping production, however, the Cardinals have realized that they have to find a way to get the ball in Ellington's hands more often. Just one game behind the second wild card spot in the NFC playoff race, the Cardinals are ready to increase their best running back's touches down the stretch.
The Cardinals' official website reported on Friday that Arians "has said he would like to get rookie running back Andre Ellington around 20 touches a game." The head coach added that the increased workload "might be best suited as a receiver to get Ellington into space."
You could see the uptick in touches coming, as Ellington had a single-game career-high of seven carries entering Week 8, but toted the ball 15 times in his most recent contest (granted, the increase was largely due to Mendenhall not playing). What did he do with those 15 carries? Oh, just 154 yards and a touchdown - no big deal for the sixth-round pick. The most encouraging takeaway from the game may have been that Ellington emerged unscathed.
It's worth noting, however, that the carries are unlikely to stay quite that high. In addition to Mendenhall returning as the "starter," Arians specifically addressed getting Ellington touches in the passing game, where he has been great this year (22 catches for 198 yards and a touchdown, 9.0 yards per reception). Throwing passes to Ellington allows him to get out into space, where he is not only more likely to break off a big play, but is also less likely to take on a straight-on collision. When running between the tackles, there is much less room to wiggle for running backs, so they have to take a lot of head-on shots from linebackers. In open space, however, defenders will be trying to pull Ellington down by his shoestrings thanks to his speed and quickness.
Ellington has become an incredibly exciting player to watch, and he is clearly one of the steals of the 2013 draft. Mendenhall looks washed up, Carson Palmer is having arguably the worst statistical season of his career, and Larry Fitzgerald doesn't look like himself. Ellington just might be the most dangerous weapon that the Cardinals have on offense, and they know it. Unlike what the Jaguars are saying about Denard Robinson, it would not surprise me at all to see the Cardinals stick to their word and get Ellington close to 20 touches per game moving forward.