Falcons vs. Cardinals: What will the running back rotation look like on Sunday?

Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

With Rashard Mendenhall doubtful to play, it could mean that Ryan Williams...or maybe not.

Rashard Mendenhall is doubtful to play on Sunday vs. the Atlanta Falcons because of a toe injury that continues to bother him. This will change the running back rotation a bit.

What it appears will happen is that Andre Ellington will take over in a starting role. Bruce Arians, though, in talking to the media on Friday (as quoted on the team's official website), that doesn't mean that he is going to be the featured back.

"I look at him the same way," Arians said. "It's still a situational ... I don't use the word ‘committee' but we'll monitor how many times he carries."

At the same time, when Ellington was asked about the situation with Mendenhall hurt, he sounded like a guy expecting a greater workload. "I was already getting the majority of the plays on offense, but my role is just a little bit bigger," Ellington said.

This also goes along with what general manager Steve Keim said to AZ Central columnist Paola Boivin. After citing how you don't want to overwork him (they see him as a runner with a slight build and "thin hips") and set him back with injuries, he did give hope to fans who have been clamoring for him to get more touches. "I think in the next couple weeks our fans will be excited because at the end of the day you're going to see a lot more of Andre Ellington," he told Boivin.

It sounds like Ellington will be the starter and will get more touches. What this may affect is his being used as a receiver. He may see the same number of snaps (30-35), but this week they may be different situations -- lining up more at running back instead of out wide.

The other player that appears to be ready to have a greater role is Stepfan Taylor. Taylor is slated to be Ellington's backup should Mendenhall not play. Alfonso Smith will remain the third down back because of his good pass protection.

The guy that still seems out of the mix is Ryan Williams, who has yet to be active this season. While Mendenhall is on the shelf, it would appear that it would be the perfect week to see Williams be active on game day. Arians was quick to make sure that it isn't a sure thing, saying that his active status will be determined by the other guys they make inactive.

On multiple occasions, Arians has cited how Williams does not play on special teams, but according to Williams, he could do it if he were asked. His quotes about not playing show a man that is clearly disappointed about the situation, but he is not showing bitterness. Instead, he continues to work hard.

So, based on all we have heard, even if Mendenhall sits, it sounds like Williams won't get to see the field on offense. This shoots down the theory I had about how I thought he was being kept around as an insurance plan.

I believed a possibility would be, in the case of a Mendenhall injury, that, instead of shifting everyone's roles around, they would simply plug in Williams into the Mendenhall "lead dog runner" role. Ellington might get more looks but would still be used in his runner/receiver role. Smith and Taylor would still have the same roles.

If what the coaches are saying, Ellington will have a bigger role, Stepfan Taylor will have a bigger role, but neither Smith nor Williams will.

The lack of use of Williams continues to be the biggest mystery for fans and media. Williams practiced all offseason and was praised. He had the injury flare up in training camp and there was clearly something that changed Arians' trust in the third-year player.

I am not saying that if he is not going to be used, then he shouldn't be on the roster. Guys at the end of the roster typically are in the same situation. However, the issue is that there are many people that believe that he could be the most talented runner of the group. That is the part that is puzzling for many.

At the same time, it is understandable. Alfonso Smith is a better special teams player and pass blocker. Stepfan Taylor is better at blocking and special teams. If Williams is not markedly better as a runner, then it is completely understandable. Ellington has been dynamic with the ball. Mendenhall is steady and rarely do you get negative yards. Williams' NFL career has not been great in the running game. There is just that potential he could be really good. That is the frustrating part.

So, we can expect a bigger role for Ellington and probably more carries than just one or two for Taylor.  Don't expect Ryan Williams.

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