I think we were all a bit confused and disappointed in the Cardinals running game in 2010. It had to do with production and playcalling. Over at the SB Nation NFL page, Jon Bois gives a good breakdown of looking at the "feature" back system (such that teams run like the Atlanta Falcons with Michael Turner, the St. Louis Rams with Stephen Jackson, the Tennessee Titans with Chris Johnson and the Minnesota Vikings with Adrian Peterson) compared to a multi-back system (such as the Jets, Chiefs, Dolphins and Cardinals use).
Looking at the numbers, the Cardinals should have been a much more productive rushing team.
At a glance, there is a negligible difference between the running game in terms of yards per carry when you have a single-back team compared to a multi-back team (a single back team is when one back has at least 70 percent of the team's carries). Single-back teams average 4.18 YPC and multi-back teams average 4.22 YPC. The Cardinals are a multi-back team. Tin Hightower carried the ball 153 times and Beanie Wells 116.
The biggest difference is in yards per game. Single-back teams average 95.8 YPG and multi-back teams average 122.9. The Cardinals averaged just under 87 YPG (86.8). They were a team that obviously brought the average down.
Why the discrepancy? This one is simple. The Cardinals ran the ball less with their running backs than any other team in the league except for the Philadelphia Eagles (who ran the ball overall more than the Cardinals because of Michael Vick).
The article was inconclusive as to which system is better.
When looking at the Cardinals and their offensive plans, you have to wonder what was going on. The left side of their offensive line (Levi Brown and Alan Faneca) are known to be much better run blockers than pass blockers. They had two backs who have shown they can be productive (see 2009), even though Wells battled a lingering injury. Their quarterback situation was such that we all thought that the offense would become more of a running attack.
Yes, the team managed to fall behind early, which tends to cause teams to abandon the run, but even bad teams like the Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns and Buffalo Bills managed to run the ball much more than the Cardinals.
Now that it appears that the Cardinals will have three backs able to carry the offensive load for a team, in 2011, we need to see more dedication to the running game. When, as a team, you average over four yards a carry as the Cardinals did in 2010, it would make sense that you get two running backs at least 10-15 carries a game. In 2010, the Cards averaged less than 20 carries total per game.
If the team plans on continuing to use a multi-back system, it needs to simply run the ball more. It is a terrible use of personnel to have two or three backs that are not specialized and not use them.
Will Ken Whisenhunt and Mike Miller learn from their offensive failures in 2010? I certainly hope so. Regardless of the quarterback, they need to utilize their running backs if they are going to employ them.