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Arizona Cardinals 2011 Season Grades: The Running Backs

We continue with our series of grading each position, looking back at the 2011 performance. On Wednesday, we looked at the quarterbacks and, by a large margin so far, readers give them a "C" for the season. That grade also coincides with the grade I gave them.

Today we move on to the running backs, which has a mixed bunch. With the poll, give your grade and discuss your reasoning.

The main guy of the runners is, of course, Beanie Wells, who had a career year. However, it could have and should have been so much better. He started the season running incredibly well. He went for 90 and 93 yards before missing a week because of a hamstring issue. The next week he absolutely dominated the New York Giants, rushing for 137 yards.

However, a knee injury slowed him the rest of the season. He did set a team record with 228 yards against the St. Louis Rams, including the two longest runs of his career. However, only in one other game did he even reach 70 yards (83 against the Ravens).

It is important to note he was playing almost on one leg, as coach Ken Whisenhunt commented at the end of the season. He showed a toughness he never had before and ran physically. He ended with 1047 yards and 10 TDs.

As a team, they ran fairly successfully. They averaged 4.2 yards per carry. However, they still only ran the ball 37 percent of the time on offense.

The rest of the backs were not used much in the running game. LaRod Stephens-Howling only had 43 carries on the season, but 21 came in the season finale when he started and ran for 93 yards. He was the only other back to make any real contribution to the running game. LSH did, though, make an impact offensively. He showed to be pretty exciting when the team was able to get him the ball in space. They just didn't do that much. He scored two TDs on receptions, including the game-winner in overtime against Dallas.

Second round pick Ryan Williams was injured the entire season.

Veteran Chester Taylor looked absolutely awful when he first got here, but in his defense, he was just learning the offense and his assignments. Later in the year he busted a 34-yard run against the San Francisco 49ers, which at that time was the longest they had given up (I don't know if they allowed one longer after that) and became used much more in passing downs late in the season. He had 20 carries for 77 yards and a TD and also caught 14 passes. He actually got more offensive snaps (199) than LSH (144).

Alfonso Smith was a special teams contributor and scored the first touchdown of his career, but when he carried the more than a couple of times in a game, he was not particularly effective. It was noticeable in the first game against the Seattle Seahawks, when on multiple attempts of third down and one or two yards, he was unable to convert.

Either Taylor gained the trust of the coaching staff as the season went on or Smith lost their trust, but by the end of the year, Smith only played 83 offensive snaps, 45 of which came in that Seattle game.

Fullback Anthony Sherman was a huge addition. He was used very little as a runner or pass catcher (one rushing attempt and eight catches on the season), but Beanie's running success can be attributed largely to Sherman's ability to open holes.

Individually, I would grade Beanie a A- (B because of overall performance, but extra credit for the toughness of playing while quite hurt). Williams gets an incomplete. LSH gets an A, but with limited action.

Taylor, would have gotten an F to start the season, pulled his overall grade up to a C (I would have liked for him to be more of an impact pass catcher). Smith, unfortunately, gets a D. He had opportunities and did not capitalize and either was quickly passed up by Taylor, or the coaches lost trust in him on offense.

Overall, the RBs get a "B." They performed well as a unit. They just were not utilized as much as they should have.

Do you agree? The discussion is now open.

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