GLENDALE, Ariz. — There is internal concern that the Cardinals are ranked 24th in the NFL in preseason rushing yards per game (81) and dead last in average yards per game (2.2). But the level of concern varies.
Coach Bruce Arians is using the eyeball test rather than the numbers test when evaluating his running backs (and offensive line). General manager Steve Keim worried about the team’s lack of explosive runs on his weekly radio show Monday, and the players themselves were on the defensive because they’ve been hearing about it for two games.
"Bottom line is we just got to continue to rush the football," No. 1 back Andre Ellington said Monday. "The standard is the standard; that’s to get four yards a carry.
The Cardinals had 96 yards on 34 carries Saturday in Minneapolis, but if you take out an 8-yard Carson Palmer scramble and a 20-yard reverse by Brittan Golden (we’re always loathe to play this game), they gained 68 yards on 32 carries. There’s also the reality that those two fourth down conversions on their 19-play, 14-run TD drive to start the second half may not have occurred in the regular season, making that a much less impressive drive.
But there are all sorts of mitigating factors to consider when evaluating the run game — and they go well beyond the most obvious and noteworthy one: that this is the preseason.
Start with the fact that Ellington has four carries through two games. That will clearly change when the regular season starts, as will the types of runs the Cardinals employ and the impact he has on the other backs through his change-of-pace, running-in-space style
Add in the fact that the offense is pretty vanilla this time of year, consider that Arians always views his run game as complementary to the main dish of passing and then remember the dearth of contact and pads in OTAs and minicamp which means less reps.
So how much concern should the numbers raise?
"You can’t really look at stuff like that right now," running back Jonathan Dwyer said. "We haven’t really had a big run yet, a crazy run but those things are going to come. It takes time and a lot of patience."
One thing that does seem clear is that Dwyer has climbed into the No. 2 role behind Ellington. Aside from his ability to run the hard yards at 5-11, 229 pounds, Dwyer is an excellent pass blocker; a must in an Arians offense.
"Exactly what I thought it would be," said Arians when asked about Dwyer’s impact thus far. "Jon can bounce it outside. He has deceptive speed for a big man and he’s catching the ball better than he has. He’s always been a great pass blocker. He’s everything we knew he was."
Arians and Dwyer’s careers with the Steelers overlapped for the first two years of Dwyer’s pro career. That history means a lot to both.
"B.A. has everything kind of similar to what I’m used to so everything is copacetic," said Dwyer, Pittsburgh’s sixth-round pick (188th overall) in 2010. "He knows what I can do, he knows the plays I like, he knows the runs I’m good at and he knows the situations to put me in."
Dwyer has returned the favor by being consistent throughout camp and the preseason. His numbers (nine carries, 17 yards, TD) may not be the stuff of dreams, but both he and Ellington remain confident that better days are ahead — maybe sooner than expected.
"You’ll see Sunday," Ellington said of preseason Game No. 3 against the Bengals. "I can bet you that."