Arizona Cardinals and the running game: Making the case for LaRod Stephens-Howling

USA TODAY Sports

The running game was terrible overall, but the littlest guy in the group just might be the best one

In 2012, the Arizona Cardinals struggled to run the ball almost all season. There were a couple of solid performances, one by Ryan Williams, one by William Powell and a couple by LaRod Stephens-Howling. However, the season was fraught with issues running the ball. Yet among the issues, you could make the argument that the smallest of the backs should be the one guy the team makes sure is back next season because he was the best one.

Yes, I have made the argument before that we could consider LaRod a guy you can give the bulk of carries to. Believe it or not, the numbers suggest that he just might be a number one type runner.

Pro Football Focus put together a couple of their "signature stats" articles, one on "pulse rate" and one on quantifying elusiveness.

As you can guess, LSH is one of the league's most elusive backs. His rating of 51.5 is 12th among all running backs with at least 100 touches. He is great in the open field, and he does cause missed tackles. He forced 28 missed tackles this year. The rating is calculated by looking at yards after contact, number of touches and number of missed tackles caused.

In comparison, by using the same formula, Ryan Williams and William Powell both were average in elusiveness. They both had the same average of yards after contact (2.3) as LSH, but their elusiveness ratings were quite average at 35.3 (Williams) and 34.9 (Powell). Both figures are somewhere in the middle of the pack in the league.

If you want a laugh, I bring up Beanie Wells' numbers. His elusiveness rating is a paltry 9.4, which would have been the worst in the league, had he touched the ball 11 more times during the season.

Elusiveness is not the whole picture. Clearly, a runner has to be able to go between the tackles. The argument would be that LSH was the worst guy to run between the tackles. However, no one did.

The next stats I have aren't about running inside, but the "pulse rate" is more about overall effectiveness, by taking the average per carry, overlooking breakaway runs of over 10 yards. Runs longer than 10 yards are counted for only 10 yards. Since LaRod did have some big runs, you would think that this pulse rating would pale in comparison to the other backs. It didn't. It was about the same.

Beanie Wells, Ryan Williams and LSH had the three worst pulse rates. When it came to counting on a positive gain, they were the least likely to do it, averaging 2.40, 2.39 and 2.29 yards per carry on the pulse rate. Powell's numbers I don't have because PFF didn't give the numbers and I don't have each carry individually to cap the longer ones.

They were essentially the same.

This tells us it is more about the offensive line than the backs. The line was absolutely awful at creating anything for the backs. If it were more of an issue with the runners, you would see more separation in those numbers between them.

In a nutshell, all the backs are about the same when it comes to "regular" gains, but LaRod is the most elusive.

Who do you want more?

Improve the offensive line and I have no doubt that "The Hyphen" could be a 1000 yard rusher if given the carries.

The issue? He happens to be the one back on the team that is not under contract.

If I am looking to have a more effective running game, I improve the line, which is a priority anyway, and I make sure LSH is back with Powell and Williams. Beanie? No need.

Any thoughts? Agree/disagree? I am pretty convinced that Stephens-Howling just might be the best overall running back on the roster because of the home run threat he is.

Keep up with Cardinals news and opinions when you are not on the site. Follow Revenge of the Birds on Twitter at@revengeofbirds and "like" us on Facebook. You can follow me individually at @senorjessroot.

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