Running back Andre Ellington fights through the line for the Cardinals against the Texans Sunday.
There's very little nuance to Cardinals fans' thinking right now: They want Andre Ellington to start at running back and Rashard Mendenhall to play sparingly – if at all -- behind him.
Coach Bruce Arians, though, has not agreed with that philosophy, and his workload distributions reflected as much in Sunday's 27-24 win over the Texans.
Mendenhall missed the Week 8 win against the Falcons with a toe injury and Ellington had a career night, finishing with 15 carries for
154 yards and an 80-yard touchdown.
Mendenhall was healthy enough to play Sunday against Houston and returned to the starting lineup, finishing with 13 carries for 42 yards and one reception for nine yards. Ellington had one fewer touch, rushing 11 times for 55 yards and catching two passes for 18 yards.
Mendenhall had a late fumble which gave the Texans life and put the outcome in doubt, but Arians was steadfast in his defense of the veteran after the game.
"Rashard, I thought, played extremely well today until the fumble at the end of the game, which I still thought he was down by the forward progress rule," Arians said.
Mendenhall found a groove in the third quarter, carrying the ball six times for 38 yards on consecutive drives as the Cardinals scored 10 points to take control. It included a season-high 12-yard run, and the smash-mouth possessions seemed to wear down the Houston defense and gave credence to Mendenhall's role.
"It's fun to run the football," wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. "The defense knows you're running the football and still be able to do it. That was a lot of fun to see the offensive line assert themselves. We played physical football."
The fumble on Arizona's on 5-yard line, though, may have overshadowed the successful second half carries, and Mendenhall said he knows he put the team in a bad position.
"On that play I did everything I could," Mendenhall said. "I had the ball in two hands just trying to get down and they still got me. That doesn't help this team. I know it hurt us but I did everything I could."
Ellington was used in a variety of situations. He ran between the tackles, took sweeps to the outside, lined up as a wide receiver and also directed the Wildcat offense for three snaps in the third quarter. He said he liked the versatile role he has carved out for himself.
"Instead of taking all those hits up the middle, (Arians) was kind of saving me a little bit, getting me out in space," Ellington said. "(Houston's defensive) front was pretty good against us."
Arians talked last week of giving Ellington between 18-to-20 touches in a game, but was satisfied with the output of 13 in the win.
"I think it's right where it needs to be," Arians said.