According to just about everyone who has watched the Cardinals this season, Andre Ellington is a better running back than Rashard Mendenhall. According to the only person whose opinion matters, Mendenhall is still the starter.
Cardinals coach Bruce Arians claimed after Sunday’s win over the Texans that Mendenhall “played extremely well” and said he had “no doubt” that his decision to start Mendenhall over Ellington was the right one.
That’s hard to understand. Arians made those comments after a game in which Ellington had more yards on fewer carries than Mendenhall, and all season Ellington has been making big plays that Mendenhall doesn’t make: Ellington’s 23-yard run against the Texans on Sunday was his fifth run of more than 20 yards in 54 carries this season. In 105 carries this season, Mendenhall’s longest run is just 12 yards.
Overall, Ellington has 388 yards and is averaging 7.2 yards a carry, and he’s added 24 catches for 216 yards, an average of 9.0 yards a catch. Mendenhall has 323 yards, an average of 3.1 yards a carry, and has added 11 catches for 75 yards, an average of 6.8 yards a catch.
And to top it all off, Mendenhall lost a crucial fumble at the Cardinals’ 5-yard line late in the fourth quarter on Sunday that put the Texans back in a game that the Cardinals should have been able to put away. That was Mendenhall’s third fumble of the season, and his sixth fumble in 156 carries over the last two seasons. Ellington has only fumbled once, and he recovered that fumble himself.
The Cardinals’ defense is playing great, and at 5-4 they have a chance at making some noise in the wild card race if they can get some big plays on offense. Ellington is the running back who makes those big plays, but for some reason, Arians is sticking with Mendenhall.