Cardinals rewind: Ellington states his case to start
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Andre Ellington always knew he could carry the load if given the opportunity. After all, the Cardinals running back reasoned, he had done it many times at Clemson.
"Every back probably feels that way," Ellington said last week. "But I have faith in myself. I'll do whatever they ask me to do."
With starter Rashard Mendenhall on the shelf with turf toe Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium, coach Bruce Arians tapped Ellington's shoulder and asked him to play lead back. Ellington made such a strong case in his debut that Arians may have no choice but to hand him the keys permanently.
Ellington rushed 15 times for 154 yards and an 80-yard touchdown in a 27-13 victory over the Falcons, giving him the fourth-highest rushing total by a rookie running back in franchise history and making him the first Cardinals back to top 100 yards since LaRod Stephens-Howling ran for 127 on Nov. 18, 2012, also against Atlanta.
"I'll feel it tomorrow," said Ellington, who felt no need to elevate his stature in the postgame news conference, showing up in socks without shoes. "Right now, I'm excited we got the win. I'm going to enjoy this one and get back to work tomorrow."
Arians was noncommittal when asked if Ellington's performance had changed his mind about his season-long stance that Mendenhall is the starter and Ellington is a change-of-pace back who will get between 30 and 32 snaps.
"We'll look and evaluate how everything goes and how he responds to the treatment. He'll play when he's healthy," Arians said of Mendenhall before turning his attention to Ellington. "I've got to go back and see how many snaps he really played. It was probably the same -- 35, 35 or 40 (he played 33). He scared me one time when he went down, but we tried to keep him in space as much as possible."
It is important to note that this was just one performance, so snap judgments are just that. But what a performance Ellington turned in to state his case. With that element added to the offense, the Cardinals were balanced and scored TDs on three consecutive drives in the second quarter, marking the first time they've strung together three straight TDs since a wild-card playoff win over the Packers after the 2009 season.
For the season, Ellington, a sixth-round pick, has 7.7-yard average per carry, the highest in the NFL among players with at least 40 carries.
When asked if it would be hard to resume a lesser role after this performance, Ellington shrugged.
"Not at all," he said. "Rashard is our bell cow. He's our leader in the room. This guy earned that respect. I'm waiting for him to get healthy and get out there and make plays."
It's probably safe to assume he won't have to take a back seat. He played 33 snaps on offense and his snaps which is right where Arians wants him. Aside from that, Arians likes to use Ellington in space while Mendenhall runs in the tougher areas. The two can co-exist. The question is, what happens if Stepfan Taylor (38 rushing yards, keeps showing flashes like he did on Sunday?
"I think it could be dynamic in the future," Arians said. "It's a great 1-2 punch."
Larry Fitzgerald's TD catch: With the Cardinals facing a third-and-5 at the Falcons 5-yard line early in the second quarter, center Lyle Sendlein was whistled for a false start, the crowd groaned and everybody expected the erstwhile-dismal offense to settle for a Jay Feely field goal. But QB Carson Palmer, aided by good protection (which he got most of the night), waited patiently for Fitzgerald to flash open in the back of the end zone before connecting for the first of three TDs in the quarter. The Cardinals were on their way.
Running back Andre Ellington: Really, could it be anyone else? Ellington rushed 15 times for 154 yards, the fourth-highest rushing total by a rookie running back in franchise history behind Ottis Anderson (twice) and Ronald Moore. Ellington's 80-yard TD run made him the first NFL rookie with an 80-plus-yard run since the Cowboys' DeMarco Murray did it on Oct. 23, 2011.
Safety Rashad Johnson: There may be more appropriate candidates, but how do you deny a guy who comes up with two interceptions with 9.66 real fingers? Johnson also had three passes defensed. "It's a big blessing for me to be able to do what I love, week in and week out," Johnson said.
Ryan Williams will sit on the bench until the Cardinals absolutely have to use him: With Mendenhall out Sunday, Arians had a chance to activate Williams but went with Ellington and rookie Stepfan Taylor. Both played well, and both contribute on special teams, which Williams does not. Williams' time may come, but that time is not now.
Receiver Teddy Williams is the latest deep-threat candidate: The newly signed Williams didn't play college ball but was a track star at Texas-San Antonio, where he ran a 4.26 in the 40-yard dash. Williams got behind the defense late in the first quarter to haul in a 51-yard bomb from Palmer that would have been a TD had it not been underthrown or if Williams had the experience to adjust his route. "I knew he could run; I didn't know if he could catch," Arians quipped. "I'm just happy he caught it. I'm really happy he caught it. I was holding my breath. I know he was holding his."
The Cardinals are in solid playoff position: If you figure that Seattle and San Francisco will both make the playoffs, that means one wild-card spot is up for grabs in the NFC. Arizona still trails Chicago and Detroit by a game and Carolina by a half-game, but the Cards have wins over the Lions and Panthers to give them tiebreakers in the event they finish with the same record. The Bears will be without QB Jay Cutler for a while, the Rams will be without Sam Bradford for the rest of the season and the Cards have also knocked the Falcons down a peg, earning the tiebreaker in those head-to-head scenarios. There is plenty to play for in the second half of the season.
Center Lyle Sendlein took a shot to his throat in Sunday's game and could barely speak afterward, but said he'd be OK. Linebacker John Abraham took a blow to the head but said afterward he was fine. With the bye week at hand, the Cardinals will not release injury reports this week.
-- After brutal performances the previous two weeks, left tackle Bradley Sowell turned in a strong performance Sunday, allowing no sacks, no QB hurries and no QB hits.
-- Sunday's game was the first in which Palmer had more TD passes than interceptions since the opener. It was also the first time since the opener that he didn’t throw two interceptions.
-- Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan had three interceptions entering Sunday's game. He left with seven, giving him nine interceptions in his last two meetings with the Cardinals.
-- Ryan had been sacked just nine times in the previous six games, but the Cards got him four times on sacks from Marcus Benard, Frostee Rucker, Calais Campbell and former Falcon John Abraham. Since 2012, Ryan has completed 565 of 813 pass attempts (69.5%) for 6,340 yards, 45 TDs, 12 interceptions and a 104.8 passer rating in 21 games against opponents other than Arizona. In two games against the Cardinals in that span, Ryan completed 62 of 107 attempts (57.9%) for 602 yards, a TD, 9 interceptions and a passer rating of 41.9.
-- Arizona held Atlanta to 27 rushing yards and running back Steven Jackson to 6 yards on 11 carries. After that performance, the Cardinals run defense is ranked fifth in the NFL at 88.2 yards per game allowed.
-- After recording four interceptions on Sunday, the Cardinals defense has forced 19 turnovers this season. That total is tied for second in the NFL behind only Kansas City (20).
-- The Cardinals are the only team in the NFL with at least seven players who have recorded multiple takeaways this season – CB Patrick Peterson (3 INT), LB Daryl Washington (2 INTs, fumble recovery), DE Calais Campbell (2 fumble recoveries), LB Matt Shaughnessy (2 fumble recoveries), LB Karlos Dansby (INT, fumble recovery), S Rashad Johnson (2 INTs) and S Tyrann Mathieu (2 INTs). Denver is second with five players who have recorded multiple takeaways.
Bye week. Following a 10-day break to prepare for the Falcons, the Cards get their bye week, so they should be well rested and prepared when the Texans come to University of Phoenix Stadium on Nov. 10. Houston (2-5) is struggling this season, and with winless Jacksonville to follow, there is a real possibility of the Cardinals being 6-4.
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