TEMPE, Ariz. — Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said Wednesday that the roles, number of touches and game plan will not change at running back, despite a decided edge to Andre Ellington over Rashard Mendenhall in terms of productivity — not to mention the presence of power running, fifth-round pick Stepfan Taylor and 2010 second-round pick Ryan Williams on the roster.
“As we go into games, and as games unfold, different things happen, but the plan won’t change,” Arians said. “The number of carries depends on how the flow of the game goes. If one of them gets a hot hand you’re going to ride them a little more.”
Arians is aware of the criticism both he and Mendenhall are receiving for maintaining the status quo. He knows some believe he is sticking with Mendenhall simply because the two share a Pittsburgh Steelers history, but he shrugged it off on Wednesday, saying: “That’s fine. Rashard can handle it. I can handle it.”
Arians said previously he wants to use Ellington between 30 and 32 snaps per game. In the past three games in which both have played (Mendenhall missed Week 8 due to injury), Ellington took more snaps than Mendenhall, with each player taking 30 in Week 5 (see chart at right).
Ellington has 26 carries for 209 yards and two TDs to go with four catches for 36 yards in the past two games. Mendenhall has 24 carries for 64 yards and a TD, with one catch for nine yards in those two games.
Ellington is averaging 7.2 yards per carry, the highest average in the NFL this season by a running back with a minimum of 50 attempts. Yet he has remained deferential whenever discussing his role.
“I just do whatever they ask me to do, and do it the best I can,” he said.
In defense of Mendenhall, Arians noted recently that the veteran has been playing hurt and that he tends to run in different situations than Ellington. The Cards like to use Ellington in space; they like Mendenhall running in the harder areas.
Arians also believes Mendenhall’s veteran presence has an impact, both in the locker room and on the field, where he gives the team a solid pass protector.
As for Taylor, he reached a high-water mark of 19 snaps in Week 8 when Mendenhall was out. But he played just eight last week, despite being known as a good pass blocker and a power runner at Stanford.
“You can get impatient at times, but I just have to control what I can control and not try to think too much about it or I’ll drive myself crazy,” Taylor said. “I’ve been in this situation before so it’s not anything new. I try not to jump too far ahead. Just control today and what you do, how hard you work.”
Taylor admits he is champing at the bit for more opportunities, but he also sees many areas for improvement.
“I’m pretty hard on myself so I’d say I’ve been pretty average,” he said. “I can’t go out there and miss blocks; I can’t go out there and miss holes.
“I have to prepare well all week so that doesn’t happen in a game, especially when I’m getting minimal reps in a game. I have to do a lot of mental reps and just stay patient.”
It will be hard for fans to remain patient if Ellington keeps producing, Mendenhall does not and Taylor and Williams continue to sit.