Oct 27, 2013; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Arizona Cardinals running back Andre Ellington (38) carries the ball during the first half against the Atlanta Falcons at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Why the Cardinals Must Bench Rashard Mendenhall and Start Andre Ellington


 

Oct 27, 2013; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Arizona Cardinals running back Andre Ellington (38) runs for an 80 yard touchdown against the Atlanta Falcons in the first half at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

It’s a good feeling for a fan who realizes their team picked up a late-round steal in the draft.

Cardinals fans should be developing that feeling now, because there’s one rookie on that team who has popped out of nowhere to become an effective weapon. That man is Andre Ellington.

Ellington, out of Clemson, was taken in the 6th round by the Cardinals. Most sixth round picks aren’t expect to do too much, especially as rookies, but Ellington was put into a position of limited playing time and showed great promise. After nine games, this is what his stats are.

Rushing: 54 attempts, 388 yards(7.2 average) 2 TD’s, 1 fumble(none lost)

Receiving 24 catches, 216 yards(9.0 average) 1 TD

Looks good, and it looks better when you consider this: Among running backs with more that 50 carries, Ellington has the second highest yards per carry in the league. So, while he definitely isn’t the next Adrian Peterson, Ellington has been a valuable tool for the Cardinals offense. His highlight plays include an 80 yard TD run against the Falcons, and a great one-handed catch against the Texans

Yet, Ellington has been relegated to a backup role except when starter Rashard Mendenhall was injured.  After every game that Ellington has impressed while Mendenhall has not, head coach Bruce Arians has stuck by Mendenhall, despite equating Ellington to Darren Sproles.

Why?

Rashard Mendenhall has nearly double the carries that Ellington has(105) but less yards (323)  and also has lost 2 fumbles on the year, including one against the Texans that gave the Texans a chance to win the game, which would have crushed the Cardinals playoff chances.

I don’t know what is going on in Arians’ mind, and I don’t know if most people do either, but the Cardinals need to start the superior player in order to improve the chances that their playoff hunt is successful.

Andre Ellington is not only statistically the better option, but in practical terms, he is a more versatile weapon. The one quality that Ellington always had was ability as a receiver, and he is using that talent well for the Cards. On many snaps, Ellington starts out wide or goes in motion from the backfield to the line of scrimmage. This dual-threat nature is something the Cardinals can use to their advantage, because it makes Ellington a player that defenses have to account for. He could either take the ball and use his dynamic speed to avoid tackles and get yards, or he could go out as a target for Carson Palmer.

Ellington’s speed and ability to make the most out of any cracks in the defense give the Cardinals offense a dimension on the ground it has lacked for several years. With Carson Palmer being unreliable at times, the presence of a capable runner is just what the Cardinals need to ensure their offense can put up points. He’s just the more versatile player,  and the fact that he is a rookie means more chances gives him more room to develop and improve.

What’s stopping Arians from letting Ellington take the load? Who knows? But if there’s any decision he has made as the Cardinals head coach that should rightly be criticized, it is this one. Hopefully he realizes the disservice he’s doing to his team’s offense and playoff hopes, and let’s the right man start at running back.

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