Cardinals running back Andre Ellington looks for yardage before his foot injury against the 49ers.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. – The Cardinals have enjoyed watching Andre Ellington follow Chris Johnson's lead this season, as the pair has led a revamped rushing attack.
They could have done without the visual from Sunday's 19-13 win over the 49ers.
Johnson (knee) and Ellington (foot) were injured in quick succession in the third quarter, and both headed to the locker room and didn't return. The reins were turned over to rookie David Johnson, who finished the game with eight carries for 21 yards with a touchdown and saw the lion's share of the running back duties down the stretch.
Ellington and Chris Johnson both seemed to be walking without much of a limp after the game, but coach Bruce Arians didn't have an official word on the severity of the injuries. Ellington said "I'm good" but didn't want to elaborate. Johnson is in wait-and-see mode.
"I'm not sure right now," he said. "It doesn't look like anything too major. We're going to watch it and see how I feel (Monday)."
David Johnson has shown both star and rookie flashes this season, and while he's had a tough time getting consistent carries, that could change in a hurry if Johnson and Ellington miss time. Johnson said he feels comfortable with the system now that he's been in it since the offseason, and he doesn't have much of a choice if pressed into duty.
"He has to be (ready) now," quarterback Carson Palmer said. "It depends on how long those guys are going to be out – we'll see – but it's his job now. He's got to step up and I know he will. He's going to be a great player. (Practice squad running back) Kerwynn (Williams) has got to step up too. So I'm excited to see those guys get their opportunities."
No matter which running backs play next week against the Rams, the Cardinals will hope to improve on the ground. They finished with only 70 rushing yards on 29 carries for a 2.4 yards-per-carry average against the 49ers. Chris Johnson had 17 yards on 12 carries, while Ellington finished with five rushes for 24 yards.
"It was a tough day out there," Chris Johnson said. "We have to look at film and see where things went wrong. I'm just happy for the win. It's always easier to correct mistakes with a win, rather than a loss."
Arians was particularly unhappy with short-yardage issues. The 49ers consistently had the edge in that area, wreaking havoc on plays which usually have a high success rate. Arians said the issue was not about getting overpowered in the trenches but allowing guys into the backfield unblocked.
"We keep turning guys loose on our running backs," Arians said. "We're sticking to double teams and don't have our eyes up and they're running linebackers through the gaps. We've got to see them."
Massie agreed that it wasn't a case of getting beaten at the point of attack, but pointed out a different issue.
"They were sending more than we could block," Massie said. "We had everybody blocked up, and there would be one guy that would come free where we didn't have a man there for him. They had a good game plan."
While many teams would struggle without their top two running backs, it didn't change what the Cardinals did. They drove the length of the field for the winning touchdown with David Johnson in the game, and he was never a detriment.
"All these backs can do the same thing," Massie said. "One might be smaller than the other one, but all our backs are good. When one goes down, the next one steps up."
Johnson wasn't overwhelmed by the moment. He said he rotated in and out with Chris Johnson and Ellington at practice this week and had a firm grasp of the game plan.
"Just do as much as I can to help our team win," Johnson said. "That was probably my biggest thing. Just making sure I'm doing what I need to do."
Depending on how the injuries shake out, he may be counted on to do more next week in St. Louis.