Running back Andre Ellington finishes off his 80-yard touchdown run Sunday. Ellington had 154 yards rushing against Atlanta.
Bruce Arians has never been shy to praise Andre Ellington, comparing his rookie running back to dynamic Saints star Darren Sproles.
Ellington, though, continues to push for a bigger role than even Sproles has.
With Rashard Mendenhall sidelined with a bad toe, Ellington took full advantage of his first career start on Sunday, rushing 15 times for 154 yards and a touchdown in a 27-13 victory over the Falcons at University of Phoenix Stadium.
He became the first Arizona running back to exceed 100 yards since LaRod Stephens-Howling ran for 127 on Nov. 18, 2012 against Atlanta.
"I work hard, and I try to be the best that I can be," Ellington said. "When my opportunity comes, I just try to make the best of it."
Ellington's best run came midway through the second quarter when he took a handoff from quarterback Carson Palmer, made a quick cut to his left and scampered 80 yards into the end zone, giving Arizona a 14-6 lead.
"Once we lost leverage, we weren't going to catch that guy," Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "We said that he was going to be a potential game-wrecker going into this ballgame because he's a guy that has very good speed, very good vision, and he did a very nice job today."
After showing flashes of his potential in limited touches this season, Ellington proved he could be a force as the running game's main attraction. He now has 43 carries for 333 yards on the year, a sparkling 7.74 yards-per-carry.
Arians has expressed worry about Ellington's ability to be a workhorse back because of his smaller stature, and was non-committal about the possibility of increasing Ellington's touches – or a permanent move up the depth chart -- moving forward.
"I've got to go back and see how many snaps he really played, but it was about probably the same: probably 35-40," Arians said. "He scared me one time when he went down. We tried to keep him in space as much as possible."
Ellington said he wouldn't be disappointed in moving to a lesser role when Mendenhall returns.
"Not at all," Ellington said. "Rashard, he's our bell cow. He's our leader in the room. This guy earned that respect. I'm waiting for him to get healthy and get out there and make plays."
The Cardinals' running game accumulated 201 yards, easily surpassing the team's previous season-high of 109 against the 49ers.
Fellow rookie Stepfan Taylor carried the ball 14 times for 38 yards, and while his numbers don't jump off the page, many of his attempts came late as the Cardinals were content to run out the clock.
Taylor had an impressive 15-yard run in the second quarter in which he absorbed a hit and stayed on his feet, setting up a 15-yard touchdown pass from Carson Palmer to Michael Floyd for a 21-6 lead at intermission.
"I love running physical," Taylor said. "Once I'm on the field, I just want to go compete. I'm out there running like my hair is on fire."
When the offseason concluded, most expected Mendenhall and Ryan Williams to be the Cardinals' impact running backs this year. Both were inactive on Sunday, on a day when the ground game was its most productive.
"We've been waiting for those guys to get an opportunity," quarterback Carson Palmer said. "I think everybody has. You watch them play on the scout team against the defense and see what they can do. Just two young guys that don't know any better."