The Arizona Cardinals averaged over 110 rushing yards per game during the second half of the season. When the offense was performing well, the team was getting around 30 rushing attempts.
What will the 2014 running game look like, now that Rashard Mendenhall has retired and Andre Ellington is the starter? Head coach Bruce Arians answered questions about it on Tuesday when he met with the media.
“I would like to see it improve," he said. "Over the last eight games we were better at it. We’ll tailor things for whoever the runner is, whether it’s Andre (Ellington), Stepfan (Taylor), Jonathan (Dwyer) or whoever is back there. Each guy likes to run certain plays. It also depends who the five guys are in front (on the offensive line)."
So will it be a "running back by committee" as one might have described last year's approach with Mendenhall and Ellington splitting carries?
“Andre’s number one," said Arians, in a way dismissing the committee idea. "We’ll have different packages, a little bit different this year. We’ll have more two back packages than we did had last year.”
But was Arians dismissing the idea of backs by committee? In one way, yes. Last season, Mendenhall was the clear starter. Ellington will be this year. The question is whether Ellington will more carries? Arians says he would like to get Ellington 25-30 touches per game.
Last season, the team used a few two-back sets. Usually they were with Ellington lined out wide or in the slot. A backfield of both Dwyer or Taylor and Ellington gives the defense a lot to think about. Ellington will likely be used to motion out of the backfield a lot to try and find a mismatch.
Arians did say the offensive line personnel will in part determine the running game strategy. As the offseason goes on and he can make decisions about whether Earl Watford or Paul Fanaika will be at right guard or whether Bradley Sowell or Bobby Massie win the right tackle job, he can begin scheming around their strengths.
What can we expect in the running game in 2014?
At the very least, let's hope it is at least as good as it was the last half of last season. I would expect something like last season in terms of carries. Ellington will get 15-20 carries (a la Rashard Mendenhall) and then there will be a split between Taylor and Dwyer for the other 10-15. I don't know if they will actually run the ball more, but if the offense is working right, they should get 30+ rushing attempts.
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