There's little doubt that the moves the Arizona Cardinals have made in the off season have lent themselves to the offensive line being better on paper, but I think one of the things that gets overlooked because of the Eric Winston signing and Jonathan Cooper draft pick is that the Cardinals brought in three very different, and intriguing running backs to help get the run game back on track.
The Bruce Arians offense is lauded for its love of throwing the ball around the yard, but as I spelled the other day, Arians may have had an offense that averaged the sixth most passing attempts in the NFL last season, but he still ran the ball over 27 times a game, a number that was never approached by the previous regime, 25 attempts a game was the highest in the Ken Whsienhunt era in his rookie season as coach.
When Rashard Mendenhall was brought in as a free agent it made sense, simply because of the familiarity between he and Arians.
Then the Cardinals double dipped in the draft and the question became... ok what's going on here?
Well, Arians has since come out and named Mendenhall the starter, I wrote about Ellington's fit in what Arians wants to do running the football, reminds me of a leaner "Fast" Willie Parker when he runs the ball, but there's one unknown at the running back position that keeps bringing me back to the tape.
Let's take a look at Stepfan Taylor and what he brings to the Arians offense.
When I talked about Ellington one of the things that I lamented about his game was his lack of vision, missing cutbacks and bounce out opportunities, but I did so with the caveat that maybe that's not a bad thing.
Well Taylor is the complete opposite when it comes to vision.
When you watch Taylor run it seems like he has a sixth sense at times, or just understands letting the play develop and seeing lanes as they come open.
On this play, we see Stanford lined up in a two tight, I backfield and they run a straight power lead to the left against a nine in the box defense vs. USC.
When the offensive line is stale mated at the point of attack and the USC outside linebacker meets and blows up, the full back from Stanford in the hole.
There's literally nowhere for Taylor to go to the designed play side, but Taylor sees an opening to the strong side where the inside linebacker has taken a bad read and run into the other outside linebacker trying to scrape across to get to the play side.
This allows the backside tackle to literally block three players at once, and the tight end has done a good job of sealing the backside allowing for a cutback lane.
That's the only lane Taylor has to get any yardage on this play that the defense clearly wins at the point of attack, but because Taylor is patient, and runs with such good vision, he is able to find the crease and make a play on a huge gain.
There is a problem with Taylor's vision at times though, but we will get to that shortly.
One of the mantras that we've heard from Arians is that he wants a back that can be on the field for any situation, and in an Arians offense, that means a guy that can pass protect.
This is Stepfan Taylor's strength, and in all honesty he may already be the best pass protector in the backfield on the roster.
Stanford had so much confidence in Taylor that they would design plays that left him on an island versus defensive ends and pass rushing linebackers, not just a guy that was left to clean up the trash.
In this play, we'll see a play action pass and Taylor's job is to take on the defensive end at the top of the screen.
Taylor doesn't look to chip the defender; he sticks his nose in his thigh pads and takes him on as the end comes in at full steam, knowing that he has to get him off his feet in order for the pass to the full back to be effective.
Taylor is able to up end the defender, and gives the quarterback a clear throwing lane to the back out of the backfield, leading to a big gain for the Cardinal.
One of the things that set Taylor apart when he runs is his ability to wait for his blockers to get to their spots before he makes his move.
The setup is three tight ends, two to the right and one to the left, with the backfield in an I formation.
The left guard will pull and have the first man through the hole and the full back will lead up after that, giving Taylor two reads to go off of for where the hole should be.
The problem is the attacking Oregon defense gives the Stanford offense more defenders than blockers, so Taylor has to wait for his guard to figure out what man is the most imminent threat before Taylor makes his move.
Taylor waits until the guard gets to the hole and clears the outside linebacker and Taylor gets to and through the small crease and gets a nice gain on the play, set up by his patience to let his blockers get to where they need to be and the vision to make the right cut and go.
When Taylor runs the ball he runs protected and low to the ground.
He always seems to fall forward at the end of his runs, and does a good job of initiating contact between the tackles.
There are some concerns with Taylor, and the one that is overwhelming is his lack of short area quickness or burst.
You see when I say Taylor has great vision and patience, it's almost out of the fact that Taylor doesn't have an explosiveness that allows him to get to and through holes that guys like Ellington, Mendenhall and others do.
From the time Taylor takes the handoff from the quarterback to whenever he gets tackled by a defender he is moving at almost the same speed, obviously as he gets deeper into his carry he gains speed, but you get the analogy.
The issue becomes when Taylor sees cutback lanes, or tries to bounce things outside, because he doesn't have the extra gear to get there, causing a lot of short and no gain type of plays.
Taylor also lacks some wiggle to his game, as he struggles to make the first man through miss or extend plays when in the open field.
The other issue is that Taylor can sometimes be too patient, waiting to long for a crease to develop, or dancing in the hole when he has to meet a defender head up.
What I love about Taylor's game is his smoothness and just the way it looks like he understands how to run the football.
He looks really comfortable and natural as a runner, but his physical make up may not lend itself to him becoming anything more than a quality NFL back up/situational back, but for a fifth round pick, that's not necessarily a bad thing.
More from Revenge of the Birds:
- John Abraham signing: What will his role be, and how productive will he be?
- Why Letting Go of O'Brien Schofield Was a Bad Move
- Ryan Swope retires from NFL, gives statement, may try to return
- Carson Palmer has 'never' played in an offense like Bruce Arians'
- 2013 Arizona Cardinals training camp: Bruce Arians 'extremely pleased' with run test