The Arizona Cardinals Need to Address the Running Game
The Cardinals defense has stepped up recently to help keep the wins coming. Now the running game needs to do the same.
What was to some the desert mirage that the Arizona Cardinals were an elite team after their hot start has become a real recognition of the teams legitimacy. With each win they grab, Arizona silences more and more naysayers. Like all teams though, even the best ones, there’s always something that can be done better.
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The Cardinals have been very flip-floppy on their shortcomings. One week, the offense can’t get it going but the defense holds the other team without a touchdown. The next, the opposing quarterback is burning the Arizona secondary, but the offense is firing on all
Right now, the defense is getting it done. After having seven sacks in seven games, the Cardinals have eleven in their last three. The secondary has been sharp on coverage after a weak first few games left the Cardinals worst in pass defense in terms of yards allowed.
On the offensive side, Drew Stanton has had some really good moments, but also some bad ones. His consistency will be a major factor in how successful the Cardinals are going forward.
Now, the Cardinals most glaring flaw comes on the ground.
Going into the season, the Cardinals running game had the promise to be an asset. Andre Ellington proved himself an absolute draft steal in his rookie season, and his expectations were high. Behind him were Jonathan Dwyer and Stepfan Taylor, two tough, between-the-tackles runners. The offensive line was supposed to be bolstered with Jonathan Cooper inserted into the lineup.
The results have been far below expectations. Ellington has had 168 carries for 624 (3.4 YPC) and three touchdowns. That may not look all that bad, but the Cardinals are ranked 31st in the league in rushing yards per game .
The Cardinals have won before without a strong ground presence in the past. They were ranked last in rushing when they made their run to Super Bowl 43 and nearly won. That said, it’s not a place the Cardinals want to be, especially because Drew Stanton is not Kurt Warner.
Both Ellington and the offensive line are having issues. Ellingtons foot injury that he has dealt with for much of the season has limited his practice time, but now he’s healthy and its on him to move past that and continue to improve. The other problem is that Ellington, given his small frame and size,, and is not a physical runner. He’s not a power back.
This isn’t inherently problematic. Most running backs specialize in either outside speed or inside power. Still, outside running doesn’t always get reliable results. In an age where the prototypical NFL linebacker possess extraordinary athleticism, it’s much harder to get around the edge before defenders are already at the line of scrimmage.
This is where the real problem comes into focus: The blocking is terrible. Ellington really needs athletic guards who can initiate contact quickly and open up seams in the defense for him to exploit. So far, Ted Larsen and Paul Fanaika haven’t been doing those things, and Ellington is having to play through contact because of it. Starting Jonathan Cooper might help fix this problem. He’s primarily a run blocker, and inserting him could help open up lanes for Ellington to use.
Regardless of what the Cardinals do to help try to get the ground game up and running(no pun intended), they need to figure out how to get more production in that area. Relying too heavily on Drew Stanton, or any QB for that matter, doesn’t always bode well in the long run. If the Cardinals keep everything else in good order and deal with this glaring flaw, they’ll truly be a complete team that is equipped to handle any opponent