Bruce Arians again defends Rashard Mendenhall, says he 'probably had his best game as a Cardinal'

Stephen Dunn

Arians' trust in the veteran has not wavered.

Running back Rashard Mendenhall is becoming a very unpopular player for Arizona Cardinals fans. Many want to see him benched, more so after a performance in which he rushed for 42 yards on 13 carries, had one reception for nine yards and also lost a fumble in the fourth quarter when the team needed him to run the clock out.

However, Arizona head coach Bruce Arians continues to show unwavering trust in Mendenhall. He was on the radio with Dan Bickley and Vince Marotta Monday afternoon and he went as far to say that, aside from the fumble, "Rashard probably had his best game as a Cardinal."

The stat line was rather unimpressive. 13 carries for a pedestrian 42 yards, one catch for nine. A lost fumble. Statistically it wasn't his best game.

In Week 1 against the Rams, he rushed 60 yards on 16 carries. In Week 2 against the Lions, he gained 66 yards on 15 carries and caught two passes for 28 yards. He also scored that game. He had 40 yards on 10 carries against the 49ers. Sunday's play definitely doesn't stick out.

However, his play in the second half was better. In the first half, hie carries went for one, one, five and three yards. In the second, his carries went for one, two, zero, two, 12, two, eight, five and zero yards. He also had his reception that went for nine yards. Arians said that had Rob Housler made his block, Mendy would have been sprung free and would have scored a touchdown. The 12-yard gain was his longest of the year thus far.

And that's not all.

"He's been very solid in his pass protection, and he gives us a heck of a leader in that room of young players that you have to have. He's a quality player."

Fans are getting frustrated because every time Mendenhall touches the ball, it means that Andre Ellington is not. And every time that Mendenhall goes for two yards, they feel Ellington would have gotten more and perhaps would have busted one for a long run.

Mendenhall touched the ball 14 times. Ellington did so 13 time. He ran the ball 11 times for 55 yards and caught two passes for 18. He was targeted an additional two times and there was at least one other play that was designed to go to him, but the pass went to another target. Arians has said that Ellington should get between 15-20 touches a game.

Honestly, as unspectacular as Mendenhall has been, if two plays go differently, we likely aren't even having this discussion. Mendenhall was unable to pick up a first down on a third-and-one play, when he bounced the run outside and was stopped for no gain. Arians said he saw what his running back did and understood the decision, but that situation needed one yard, not 50. If he picks up the first down, the frustration level is probably much lower. And if you add a Housler block to the Mendenhall reception, he might even score. If that happens, then he had a good game and Arians looks like a genius.

Instead, it is frustration and impatience.

Is it justified frustration on behalf of fans? Is Arians just being stubborn?

Perhaps he is simply defending a player he loves publicly but has other plans.

Stepfan Taylor carried the ball twice late in the game during the fourth quarter drive that ended in an Andre Roberts touchdown. It was Ellington, not Mendenhall, in the game on the following drive.

Unless there is something going on unsaid, we should expect to see Mendy in the same role against Jacksonville -- starting and getting a healthy share of the touches in the running game.

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