He turned in a 154-yard rushing performance that included a huge 80-yard scoring play. Fantasy owners who bet on a good game were rewarded with one of the best outputs at the position in Week 8.
What was behind his breakout? Was it a harbinger of things to come for opposing defenses or an aberration?
This run was a fantastic example of what Ellington brings to the table and what Mendenhall—the starter in absentia last week—is typically found wanting.
There was a slight delay at handoff to get his blocking set up, but it wasn’t sold as a draw play. Ellington paused in the backfield while linemen pulled, or at least attempted to, as you will see.
The play turned out to be a nice gain, largely on the wings of Ellington’s talent. You will note guard Paul Fanaika badly missed his block on the play. That’s because he tripped just after the snap.
His unfortunate fall left Atlanta linebacker Omar Gaither free to make a play on Ellington. It looked like Ellington might be stopped with a four-yard gain at this point, but the rookie had other plans.
Ellington was just getting started to burn the Falcons defense.
Ellington’s elusiveness struck here, as he dodged the tackle attempt with a nifty bounce to the outside. Once he got loose, he engaged the afterburners and somehow grabbed 22 yards.
One of the most important parts of a running back’s game is his vision. Obvious statements are obvious. Ellington is pretty good in that department.
On this play—another inside zone run—Ellington started left. He quickly saw that tight end Jim Dray had a bead on linebacker Akeem Dent and a hole to exploit to the right. Dray sealed Dent off and opened up a nice crease for Ellington. Atlanta safeties William Moore and Thomas DeCoud did a nice job of closing the gap before Ellington really got loose.
The play gained “only” nine yards, but it was yet another example of the rookie’s talent.
Coming out of college, Ellington had a disastrous NFL combine showing. His 4.61-second 40-yard dash elicited consternation in the draft community and ridicule from without.
If it’s not clear that 40-yard times are just numbers by now, perhaps this play will change your mind.
Naturally, the 80-yard touchdown run was the biggest of the day for Ellington. It was also one Mendenhall might not have made.
The run began as seemingly innocuous inside zone run. The Falcons did a decent job mucking up the middle.
It looked like Atlanta had the rookie locked up for a minimal gain, but those looks were deceiving. Once again, Ellington escaped to the outside, this time outracing the rest of the defense for for 80 yards and the score.
The Inconvenient Truth
All this is fine and dandy, but there is just one problem—playing time.
Arizona’s studly rookie running back has looked great in limited playing time, but he has been stymied by head coach Bruce Arians’ stubborn insistence that Mendenhall should be the starter.
Unfortunately, Mendenhall will resume his starting duties this weekend, barring any injury setbacks. Before he was knocked out of last week’s game, Mendenhall was averaging 30.9 offensive snaps and 14.6 touches per game to Ellington’s 24.3 and 6.9, respectively.
Efficiency apparently matters little to Arians. Despite the discrepancy in touches between the rookie and Mendenhall, Ellington has more total yardage. He averages an eye-popping 7.7 yards per carry, whereas Mendenhall clocks in at a woeful 3.1.
Mendenhall is firmly entrenched in the Thomas Jones Zone.
Pro Football Reference
Whatever the motivations behind the obstinacy for Arians, it looks like Ellington will return to his previous playing levels. That means he will be on the field for about 35 percent of all offensive snaps, per Pro Football Focus.
Of course, all this handwringing could be about semantics. Arians might start Mendenhall only to have him give way to the obviously better running back. But it’s not as if Ellington hadn’t already shown his ability before last week.
Bet on stubbornness. Sell high while you can.