NFC West: Rashard Mendenhall

We now know what former Arizona Cardinals running back Rashard Mendenhall meant last month when he wrote “And that once I had, this particular journey would be over for good. I would finally be at peace. Soon after to embark on a new voyage, hardened from the experience, and no longer alone, but with light by my side,” in his Huffington Post blog.

According to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, Mendenhall has decided to retire, a few days before he was to become an unrestricted free agent Tuesday afternoon, a move that wasn't even considered as a possibility by many until Mendenhall's post. But I'll admit, I didn't do a double take when I saw the headline. Apparently, Mendenhall told the Cardinals he wants to focus on other parts of life, like writing a book. He's a very cerebral and introspective man who happened to be a good running back. He didn't do it often, but he shared his passion for literature with reporters in the Cardinals' locker room, talking to them about books on various subjects. And his Twitter feed was often a deep look into how Mendenhall's mind worked.

Mendenhall
Mendenhall
And it was clear it wasn't like many other football players'.

Mendenhall was quiet and kept to himself around the media. He often spoke in clichés and didn't let his guard down, most likely a result of the 2010 tweet he wrote in the wake of Osama bin Laden's killing.

“What kind of person celebrates death? It's amazing how people can HATE a man they have never even heard speak. We've only heard one side...” Mendenhall tweeted.

He lost an endorsement deal with Champion because of the fallout from that tweet.

On the field, Mendenhall's career was riddled with injuries. A shoulder injury during his rookie season forced him to miss the final 13 weeks of the year. He tore his ACL in 2011 while playing for Pittsburgh and spent 2012 recovering from that knee injury. He battled a turf toe injury for the majority of the first half of the 2013.

I don't believe Mendenhall retiring was a football issue. He ran for 687 yards in 2013, his first full season back after the ACL and if it wasn't for his turf toe and a Cardinals' offensive line that didn't find its rhythm until the second half of the season, Mendenhall could've rushed for close to 900 or even 1,000 yards. He showed glimpses of the speed that helped him run for 1,108 yards in 2009 and 1,273 in 2010 when the Steelers lost Super Bowl XLV. He was 72 yards short of a third-straight 1,000-yard season when he suffered the ACL injury in Week 16.

He leaves a career that was consistent but not stellar. Thanks in part to the injuries in his only season with the Cardinals, he didn't live up to the Mendenhall known around the league -- one reason he was likely to lose his starting job in 2014 to Andre Ellington.

But I don't think that's why he retired. He was ready to explore life outside a locker room and the vision he had led him to where he wants to be.

Mendenhall closed his most recent Huffington Post blog with this:

"That day I sat on my couch two years ago was the very next day after I tore my ACL in week 17 (in 2011). The journey I envisioned is the two years of rebuilding that would follow. And as I write this, today is the day that the journey is over and I am fully at peace. Eagerly looking to a new way, which lies ahead."
The more weight Arizona Cardinals running back Andre Ellington puts on this offseason, the better for him and the Cardinals.

[+] EnlargeAndre Ellington
Jennifer Stewart/USA TODAY SportsCardinals GM Steve Keim is aiming for running back Andre Ellington (pictured) to share some of the backfield load with Stepfan Taylor in 2014.
He’s already gained 10 pounds in the two months since Arizona's season ended, coach Bruce Arians said Friday at the NFL combine. But if general manager Steve Keim has his way, Ellington won't be using that added weight to protect his body from carrying the ball 30 times a game next season -- even if Arians wants to build the offense around Ellington this season.

Keim doesn’t plan on Ellington being Arizona’s featured back in 2014. Then again, Keim doesn’t plan on anybody filling that role.

“I don't know that there are many featured backs in the NFL,” Keim said. "Adrian Peterson, those types of guys. Most teams use a platoon of backs and that would probably be no different than us.

“To say you're going to play him 25 to 35 snaps, pounding the ball between the tackles, you're probably leaving yourself open to injuries. So any time, we can take a young man like him, add some weight without losing his speed and movement skills, I think you're doing yourself a favor.”

Keim compared Ellington to Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles and Tennessee’s Chris Johnson based on their physical similarities. And like those backs, Ellington’s strengths, Keim said, are his speed, acceleration and movement.

But the difference is that Charles and Johnson are featured backs.

Charles had 259 carries in 2013 for 1,287 yards. The next most carries were by Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith. And Johnson had 279 carries for 1,077 yards -- 222 more than the next Titan.

After last season, Arians said Ellington could be a feature back if he’s used similarly to his role in 2013, which saw him evolve into a receiver. Arians said in December that Ellington’s receiving ability creates mismatches for defenses similar to tight ends like New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham or San Francisco’s Vernon Davis.

“I've never been around a running back who stepped on the field and tried to do things he's never done before and played wide receiver as good as he does,” Arians said at the combine. “He plays it as well as most of our starting wide receivers. He has a unique talent we want to look at and continue to build our offense around this year.”

Taylor
To save Ellington’s body from the daily beat down that comes with being a featured back -- just ask Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch, who routinely sat out practices during the week to rest -- the Cardinals will be relying on Stepfan Taylor to pick up crucial third downs and important yards.

In 2013, six of Taylor's 36 carries went for first downs and he had a 40 percent third-down conversion percentage.

With Rashard Mendenhall an unrestricted free agent this year and his name rarely getting mentioned in Indianapolis, Taylor’s thunder to Ellington’s lightning could be the platoon Keim wants.

“He and Andre are really polar opposites, when you talk about perimeter runner than you have an inside pounder like Stepfan, who when the game was on in Seattle and we needed a first down to ice the game, we gave it to Stepfan and he had a 10- or 11-yard run to finish the game,” Keim said. “He's a guy we have big expectations for us. He's very smart. He's articulate. Great young man, works his tail off.

“I think the future is really bright for him."

Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 9
Preseason Power Ranking: 26

Biggest surprise: No one expected Arizona to struggle like it did throughout the first half of the season because an offensive mastermind, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, was in charge. Likewise, nobody expected the Cardinals to go on a tear through the final nine, going 7-2 to finish 10-6. A 10-win season for the Cardinals isn't to be ignored. They're tough to come by, but Arians was able to accomplish it in his first season, which nobody expected. He proved himself as a head coach at 61 and showed how great his offense is when a team can learn and execute it.

Biggest disappointment: Arians was dead set on riding running back Rashard Mendenhall this season with rookie Andre Ellington as his backup. And while Mendenhall was serviceable, it wasn't a successful move. Mendenhall finished with 687 yards on 217 carries, an average of 3.2 yards per carry -- just 35 more than Ellington on 99 more carries. Partially to blame for Mendenhall underachieving was a turf-toe injury that limited him for most of the season, but when he was healthy, he showed his true speed in only two games. Other than that, he struggled to break through the line as often as the Cardinals needed him to. He's not the future for Arizona at running back. That belongs to Ellington.

Biggest need: Everyone thinks the most obvious need is a left tackle, but with how the offensive line played during the last eight games, it may be the least of the Cardinals' worries. Arizona needs a big, fast safety who can defend tight ends. The 29 tight ends who faced the Cardinals this season accounted for 1,247 yards and 17 touchdowns on 98 receptions. The yards accounted for 30.7 percent of the total by opposing receivers and the 98 receptions were 26.7 percent of the catches made by opponents. But the most telling stat, and the difference between wins and losses, are the 17 touchdowns by opposing tight ends, which are 58.6 percent of the 29 total allowed by the Cardinals' secondary.

Team MVP: There were a handful of Cardinals who had good seasons on both sides of the ball, but there was one who really kept the pulse of the team alive. Veteran linebacker Karlos Dansby was shunned by Miami and took a huge pay cut to come to Arizona, and he proved to everyone in the league that, at age 32, he still had it. He was second in the NFL with 114 solo tackles, 6.5 sacks -- his most since his eight in 2006 -- and a career-high four interceptions. But his ability to impact a top-six defense near the line of scrimmage, sideline-to-sideline and then dropping back in coverage made him the most important player on the team.

All Cardinals ready to play vs. 49ers

December, 27, 2013
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TEMPE, Ariz. – If there is one game all season anyone on the Arizona Cardinals’ roster didn’t want to miss, this is it.

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said “basically” everybody practiced Friday leading up to Sunday’s game against San Francisco. Linebacker John Abraham (groin), guard Daryn Colledge (back) and safety Rashad Johnson (ankle) were all limited Friday and are listed as questionable.

Everyone else practiced in full and is probable, including quarterback Carson Palmer (ankle and elbow), linebacker Daryl Washington (ankle), defensive tackle Darnell Dockett (shoulder) and running back Rashard Mendenhall (finger).

“It looks like we’ll be full-go and ready to play,” Arians said. “It’s a big game. It’s fun to have the last one count. That’s what we wanted all year, for this game to matter and it matters.”

Upon Further Review: Cardinals Week 16

December, 23, 2013
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SEATTLE -- A review of four hot issues from the Arizona Cardinals' 17-10 win over the Seattle Seahawks.

Balanced attack: While most of the offense wasn't working, the running game was able to find a rhythm and balance.

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Mendenhall
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Rookie Andre Ellington's 64 yards complemented starter Rashard Mendenhall's 63. But how they got them was vastly different. Ellington averaged 4.3 yards per carry and had a long of 26. On the other hand, Mendenhall averaged 3 yards per carry and had a long of just 9.

The two provided the right inside-out balance that was able to keep Seattle from guessing where they were going. And even when the Seahawks had an idea, Ellington's speed was too much.

Palmer's low days: For the fourth time this season, Carson Palmer threw for fewer than 200 yards. Besides the first time it happened, in Week 3 at New Orleans when Palmer had 187 yards, two interceptions and no touchdowns, the Cardinals have won every time. It hadn't happened in almost two months, but Palmer's 178 yards Sunday were his third-fewest this season. The other two games were against Carolina (175) and Houston (172), both wins.

Palmer was 13-for-25 passing against Seattle, tying his lowest total for completions this season and making that his second-lowest attempts.

Pro Bowl year goes on: It seems like everything Justin Bethel does this season has been Pro Bowl worthy. He added to his résumé in Seattle with less than a week before the voting for the Pro Bowl is over.

On Arizona's first punt of the game, he brought down Golden Tate at the Seattle 11 for no gain.

In the third quarter, after Arizona took a 6-3 lead, Robert Turbin fumbled a kickoff return, which was recovered by Bethel.

Reversal of fortunes: After weeks of having calls go against them, the Cardinals were the beneficiaries of some good luck Sunday.

There were a handful of calls that could have gone the other way but were ruled in Arizona's favor, including one that sealed the win. With 2:06 left in the fourth quarter, Russell Wilson's pass bounced off the arm of tight end Doug Baldwin and into the hands of Karlos Dansby. But the play was challenged, alleging that it hit the ground first. Although replays leaned toward this, the video was inconclusive enough to overturn the call, and Arizona kept possession. Seattle also challenged whether Mendenhall was down before he fumbled, and the replay showed he was, which allowed Arizona to keep the ball and eventually led to a field goal.
TEMPE, Ariz. - If the NFL draft order were determined this week, the Arizona Cardinals would have the 23rd overall pick, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

It’s an area of the draft board they’re not familiar with. The top 10 is more the norm for the Cards.

Arizona has made just four initial selections at 20th or later in the first round in the history of the team, although two of them have come in the past five years. The most recent was Dan Williams, in 2010 at No. 26; the year before, they chose Beanie Wells at No. 31.

Those two drafts coincided with runs to the playoffs. Arizona lost in the Super Bowl in the 2008 playoffs, which gave them the second-to-last pick of the 2009 draft. And in 2009, the Cards lost in an NFC divisional playoff.

It was 33 years between picks in the last third of the first round, however. In 1976, the Cardinals chose Mike Dawson 22nd, and in 1975 they picked Tim Gray at No. 21.

While the draft order can change dramatically in the next four games, Arizona has never selected 23rd.

Since 1980, the 23rd pick has produced a handful of impact players, according to MyNFLDraft.com, including three tackles in the past five years. Cardinals running back Rashard Mendenhall went 23rd to Pittsburgh in 2008.

Among some of the better 23rd picks are DT Sharrif Floyd (2013), OT Michael Oher (2009), WR Dwayne Bowe (2007), RB Willis McGahee (2003), RB Deuce McAllister (2001), CB Ty Law (1995) and T Bruce Armstrong (1987).

Ellington inactive against Eagles

December, 1, 2013
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PHILADELPHIA -- Arizona Cardinals rookie running back Andre Ellington is inactive for Sunday’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles, the team announced.

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Ellington tweaked his left knee late in Thursday’s practice and anticipated playing when he met with the media on Friday. He missed practice Friday and was planning on resting the knee Saturday before going through a pregame workout Sunday.

Without Ellington, Rashard Mendenhall will absorb the majority of the carries with rookie Stepfan Taylor and Alfonso Smith filling in as his backups. Taylor will take over Ellington’s role on third-down runs but it’s likely that none of the backs will line up as a receiver like Ellington did.

On Friday, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said if Ellington couldn’t play, Arizona will just remove a small package from the game plan.

The last time Arizona was down a running back, in Week 8 against Atlanta when Mendenhall sat out, Arians split the carries between Ellington (15) and Taylor (14). That’s unlikely to happen with Mendenhall this week because, now that he’s healthy, he’s showing speed not seen from him since training camp.

Upon Further Review: Cardinals Week 12

November, 25, 2013
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TEMPE, Ariz. -- A review of four hot issues from the Arizona Cardinals’ 40-11 win over the Indianapolis Colts.

About time: It’s become a running joke around the Cardinals: Karlos Dansby couldn’t catch interceptions. That changed Sunday. He intercepted Colts quarterback Andrew Luck midway through the second quarter and returned it 22 yards for a touchdown.

“I put a lot of work in,” Dansby said. “I missed a few early in the season. When everything is on the line, I came through today. [Luck] had a lot of pressure on him. He threw the ball up and I ran through it.”

Even Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, who razzed Dansby as much as anyone, was thrilled for Dansby.

“I thought he was going to get another one,” Arians said. “That was a huge one, a huge one, big momentum swing.”

[+] EnlargeLarry Fitzgerald
Norm Hall/Getty ImagesLarry Fitzgerald surpassed the 11,000-yard receiving mark for his career in Sunday's win.
Another record: Larry Fitzgerald became the youngest player in NFL history to reach 11,000 receiving yards. He’s 30 years, 85 days -- 137 days younger than Randy Moss, who he passed on the list.

“I really don’t pay all that much attention to it in the now,” Fitzgerald said. “I’m happy. It’s a great accomplishment, but Jerry Rice had 21,000 yards receiving. That’s the benchmark.”

It’s the second milestone Fitzgerald has hit this season. He became the youngest NFL player to reach 800 receptions.

Fast improvement: A week after running for 14 yards, the Cardinals responded with 120 yards on the ground. It wasn’t a dominant performance, but it provided the kind of balance that Arizona has been seeking. Rashard Mendenhall had 54 yards on 13 carries and rookie Andre Ellington had 50 yards on 10 carries.

Both players had big runs, and Mendenhall showed speed not seen since he first joined the Cardinals.

“Rashard looked like himself,” Arians said. “He looked healthy like he did back in training camp. I was really glad to see that, and no better time. I thought he had, by far, his best game, both those backs.”

Streak over: One of the few things that went wrong for the Cardinals on Sunday was Jay Feely’s blocked field goal. It happened late in the first quarter when Sergio Brown got his hands on the 28-yard attempt. The block snapped a streak of 17 straight field goals for Feely from Weeks 2-10. It was the fourth-longest streak in franchise history.

Rapid Reaction: Indianapolis Colts

November, 24, 2013
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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- A few thoughts on the Indianapolis Colts' 40-11 loss to the Arizona Cardinals:

What it means: The Colts were never in it. They were embarrassed for the second time in three games. They entered the game knowing they had to put pressure on Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer. That didn’t happen until the game was already determined. Palmer picked apart the Colts defense by going 26-of-37 for 314 yards and two touchdowns. The Colts sacked Palmer three times. Cardinals running back Rashard Mendenhall bounced around for 54 yards on 13 carries. The Colts didn’t get their lone touchdown until the fourth quarter, when they were already down by 23 points.

No rushing attack: The 137 yards rushing against the Tennessee Titans on Nov. 14 turned out to be just a one-game thing for the Colts. They ran the ball only 15 times for 80 yards. Don’t get excited by the 5.3 average. It’s rarely a good thing when your quarterback is one of the leading rushers. Andrew Luck ran for 31 yards, while Trent Richardson and Donald Brown combined for 16 yards on nine carries. Daniel Herron led the Colts with 33 yards.

Another slow start, shocking: The Colts went into the half trailing 27-3 to bring their halftime deficit to 93-12 in the past four games. The Cardinals reached Indianapolis territory on all five of their drives in the first half. They scored on four of them. The only time they failed was when Sergio Brown blocked Jay Feely's 28-yard field goal attempt on Arizona’s second offensive series of the game. The Cardinals got some help in the scoring department from their defense. Linebacker Karlos Dansby intercepted Luck’s pass and returned it 22 yards for a touchdown early in the second quarter.

Injury loss: The Colts were already without starting cornerback Greg Toler (groin), and then they lost their other starting cornerback, Vontae Davis, with a groin injury in the fourth quarter. The defense hasn’t been the same -- giving up big plays against Houston, St. Louis and Arizona -- since Toler went out of the lineup prior to the Titans game on Nov. 3.

What’s next: The Colts return to Lucas Oil Stadium to take on the Titans on Dec. 1. The Colts beat the Titans 30-27 on Nov. 14.

Rapid Reaction: Arizona Cardinals

November, 24, 2013
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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- A few thoughts on the Arizona Cardinals' 40-11 win over the Indianapolis Colts.

What it means: Not only are the Cardinals winning games this season, but they're winning games they're supposed to win. That hasn't happened in Arizona in a while. The worst-kept secret in the NFL is how the Colts struggle in the first half. After Arizona scored on its first possession Sunday, it just kept piling on, but it wasn't just the offense that carved apart the Colts. The Cards' defense kept Indy under 100 yards for three quarters, and the Colts' first touchdown was on a broken play with a great catch. But Arizona isn't playing like a team waiting to lose like it was last season. This is a legitimate contender this season, and if it wasn't for a new offense that took almost half the season to get going, we would've been talking about the Cardinals for weeks now.

Stock watch: Rashard Mendenhall might not have ran for the most yards of the season, but there was something different about him Sunday. He had an extra pep in his step, or a set of afterburners on his heels. The veteran running back bounced outside throughout the first half instead of his typical inside-the-tackles bulldozing. He burned some rubber on his few plays, including a 13-yard run in the first half on which he hit the corner and shot up the sideline. Mendenhall looked more like rookie running back Andre Ellington than his usual self, but if Mendenhall can produce burst plays, Arizona's options at running back just got deeper.

Hitting their goals: The Cardinals hit most of their offensive goals Sunday. Their 40 points exceeded their time of possession (36:49) and Arizona converted 50 percent of their third downs, another area of focus for the Cards.

Floyd keeps it up: Michael Floyd set a career high last weekend with 193 yards, but he didn't let up Sunday. His 104 yards were his second-highest total of the season and the first time he went over the 100-yard mark in back-to-back games in his career. But it wasn't just the quantity of yards, it was the quality. Normally facing single coverage, Floyd's catches were mostly highlight-worthy and made against the sideline. He's able to benefit from the attention Larry Fitzgerald gets, but he's still making great catches.

What's next: The Cardinals face the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Rashard Mendenhall isn’t going anywhere.

Despite objections from the Arizona Cardinals’ fan base, the starting running back will remain in that position coach Bruce Arians said this week.

With his turf toe healed, Mendenhall will be the starter for the foreseeable future. But after the opening snap, who gets the carries will be decided by the flow of the game.

[+] EnlargeRashard Mendenhall
Jennifer Hilderbrand/USA TODAY SportsRashard Mendenhall, a six-year pro who is in his first season with Arizona, has 105 carries for 323 yards and three TDs through eight games this season.
“As we go into games, and as games unfold, different things happen, but the plan won’t change,” Arians said.

Rookie running back Andre Ellington played five more snaps against the Houston Texans on Sunday and finished with 13 more yards, but Mendenhall carried the ball 13 times to Ellington’s 11.

Mendenhall has been on the brunt side of criticism this season because of his perceived ineffectiveness. While Ellington is second in the NFL with 7.2 yards per carry, Mendenhall averages 3.1 yards but has 105 carries, almost twice as many as the rookie. Yet fumbles by Mendenhall, including one late in the fourth quarter Sunday that allowed the Texans to cut a 10-point deficit to three, haven’t put him in the good graces of Cards’ fans.

“That’s usually the second-string quarterback,” Arians joked. “But, no, that’s fine. Rashard can handle it. I can handle it.”

All-Pro wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said Mendenhall doesn’t get criticized in the locker room, but rather embraced because of his experience. Mendenhall won Super Bowl XLIII with the Pittsburgh Steelers and is a postseason veteran.

“We enjoy him as a teammate. He’s a great addition for us,” Fitzgerald said. “He comes with a wealth of knowledge. He’s been very helpful to the young backs.”

Mendenhall’s role as the Cardinals’ feature back means more carries inside the tackles. His per-carry average is more of a reflection of the offensive line’s inability to block for the running backs during the first seven weeks of the season then it is his skills.

Against the Texans, Mendenhall had three carries compared to Ellington’s two in the first quarter, then Mendenhall had just one in the second, while Ellington had two more. In the third, Arizona rode Mendenhall with six carries. Ellington had four, two of which came in the wildcat.

In the fourth quarter, however, Mendenhall and Ellington each had three, while rookie Stepfan Taylor carried twice.

Despite the fumble, Mendenhall is still in favor with the coaches, who don’t plan on making a change anytime soon.

“Rashard is Rashard. We still believe in him,” offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. “I still think he’s doing a great job, he just has to keep grinding.”
Patrick Peterson and Chad Henne AP PhotoCornerback Patrick Peterson, left, and the Cardinals could make life hard for the Jags' Chad Henne.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars finally took 0-16 off the table with their 29-27 upset of Tennessee in Nashville.

But that doesn't mean things are wonderful in Jacksonville. The team still ranks last in the NFL in total offense and rush defense and next-to-last in rushing offense.

To the Jaguars' credit, the players said those same things almost immediately after the game and have repeated them throughout the week. Finally getting that first victory doesn't change the fact that the team still has a long way to go.

The Arizona Cardinals have won back-to-back games for the second time this season and find themselves in the hunt for a playoff spot. The offense hasn't been especially productive, but the defensive front has been stellar, which is why the Cardinals are the NFL's third-best rush defense.

ESPN.com Jaguars reporter Michael DiRocco and Cardinals reporter Josh Weinfuss break down Sunday's matchup at EverBank Field:

DiRocco: Josh, running back Rashard Mendenhall has really struggled this season. Rookie Andre Ellington has clearly outplayed him, yet coach Bruce Arians seems to be sticking with Mendenhall. What gives?

Weinfuss: If I had the answer to that question, I would sell it to Arians, retire and be living on a beach. Nobody really knows. There are a few guesses as to why, but the most common one is that Arians is simply loyal to players he brings in. Mendenhall was Arians' handpicked running back, and the coach will go with him through thick and thin. There's also the fact that Arians doesn't consider Ellington an every-down back. Arians would rather give Mendenhall the brunt of the carries -- especially between the tackles -- while he uses Ellington out in space. That said, Arians won't shy away from using Ellington more than Mendenhall throughout the game if the rookie has the rhythm.

After getting their first win, are the Jags feeding off that momentum, or are they basking a little bit in not being a winless team?

DiRocco: The Jaguars certainly enjoyed their first victory, but I would call it a tempered excitement. In the locker room after the game, players talked about fixing mistakes and staying humble. That message was reiterated Monday and Wednesday. The players remember what happened after the Denver game. They played relatively well against the Broncos, trailing 14-12 at halftime before eventually losing by 16 in a game in which they were 28-point underdogs. They figured the progress they showed would naturally continue, but they followed that performance by playing two of their worst games of the season, against San Diego and San Francisco. The players say they've learned their lesson and that won't happen again. We'll have to see Sunday if that's the case.

Like the Jaguars, the Cardinals are searching for a long-term answer at quarterback. But they're also in contention for a playoff berth, so they're not likely to be picking near the top of the draft. Louisville standout Teddy Bridgewater, Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel are probably out. So which quarterbacks to do you think they have their eyes on, and which would be the best fit?

Weinfuss: I think this draft could be the long-term answer to the Cardinals' quarterback situation. If the Cardinals end up in the playoffs, they won't be picking near the top, which means they might get their hands on a college veteran. I've liked Aaron Murray from Georgia for a long time, and I think he's the type of player who can come in and have the talent to play right away. Another guy who could benefit the Cardinals is LSU senior Zach Mettenberger. They are both pocket passers who have big arms and are smart. Mettenberger might pick up an NFL offense quicker than Murray, because he's been running an NFL offense under offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. Arians' offense calls for a big arm, but I think Arians is seeing what life is like in the NFC West, facing mobile quarterbacks like Seattle's Russell Wilson and San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick, who can run and have big arms. Both Murray and Mettenberger could benefit from playing behind Carson Palmer for another season, if the Cardinals bring Palmer back. If a slinger like Clemson's Tajh Boyd is available, I wouldn't be shocked to see him drafted. At the same time, I also wouldn't be surprised if Arizona waits on a quarterback until the second or third round, hoping a gem like Wilson is available then.

Speaking of quarterbacks, is Chad Henne the short-term or long-term answer, and what will the Jags do with Blaine Gabbert?

DiRocco: Right now, Henne gives the Jaguars a better chance to win than Gabbert, but Henne isn't the long-term answer for the franchise. The Jags' first pick in the 2014 draft -- whether it's No. 1 or not -- will almost certainly be a quarterback. That's a clear indication that the team is ready to move on without Gabbert, who was the No. 10 overall pick in 2011. I would be surprised if he's on the roster next season. Henne will be a free agent after the season and might opt to go somewhere else to compete for a starting spot. If he decides to come back to Jacksonville, it would likely be to serve as a mentor to whichever quarterback is drafted.

Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson has shadowed top receivers Calvin Johnson, Steve Smith and Andre Johnson and did a good job against them. I'm assuming he'll draw Cecil Shorts on Sunday. Is that the case, and where do you think Peterson ranks among the league's top corners?

Weinfuss: If Shorts is the Jags' top receiver threat, then Peterson will most likely draw that assignment. Peterson prides himself on stopping the opponent's top receiver, as he has done in wins against Detroit and Houston -- despite two touchdowns by Andre Johnson that were barely inbounds. Peterson is no doubt one of the top two or three cornerbacks in the game, and depending on how you grade them, he could be the best. He's definitely the most athletic, but sometimes his fundamentals aren't as sound as they should be. He's shown that size doesn't matter as he takes on bigger players and makes them all but a nonfactor.

Is the Jacksonville defense better than people give it credit for, or is its 32nd ranking in stopping the run an accurate representation of the unit?

DiRocco: It's pretty bad. The defensive line, outside of Sen'Derrick Marks, has played pretty poorly. It has been physically handled way too often, has poor gap control and has had trouble with missed tackles. Linebacker Geno Hayes has been inconsistent, and there are three rookies in the secondary. Middle linebacker Paul Posluszny has been terrific, but he might not play this week because of a concussion.

A weekly examination of the Cardinals' ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 26 | Last week: 17 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

This is a tough crowd. The Arizona Cardinals moved up one spot in this week’s Power Rankings to 16th after surviving a late-game rally by the Houston Texans. If the Cardinals had held on to the 10-point margin they had before running back Rashard Mendenhall fumbled late in the fourth -- which led to a Texans touchdown -- they might have been higher. But what’s done is done.

The teams ranked above the Cardinals are all viable contenders, and it says a lot that Arizona is among that group with seven weeks left in the season. Arizona is finally finding its way on offense. In a stretch of winnable games, the Cardinals have been a more complete offense, using their running game to keep defenses honest, which has given the offensive line more confidence and allowed quarterback Carson Palmer time to throw. The Cardinals have a few issues on offense, such as ball security and red zone and third-down efficiency, but if they can correct them, Arizona could keep on winning and climbing up the rankings.

Upon Further Review: Cardinals Week 10

November, 11, 2013
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A review of four hot issues from the Arizona Cardinals' 27-24 win over the Houston Texans.

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Andre Cat: Last year it was the Pat Cat. This year it'll be the Andre Cat. The Cardinals unveiled a Wildcat package Sunday with rookie running back Andre Ellington behind center. He took three straight snaps early in the third quarter, running for 12 yards on two of them and handing off to Patrick Peterson on the third.

“It was a little bit different flavor,” Ellington said.

Ellington ran it in college, but was surprised when coach Bruce Arians introduced the package Monday. Arians will only run the Wildcat if his quarterback isn't on the field, he said. But don't expect Ellington to throw the ball. It's not his forte, the rookie added.

Expect more of it, maybe a little spicier, throughout the season, Ellington said.

“It was a good little change of pace,” Arians said.

Adjusting on the fly: At halftime, the Cardinals heard about how much they were letting the Texans move the ball. And they did something about it. Arizona allowed 41 total yards in the second half -- 32 passing and just 9 rushing. They turned the Texans into a one-dimensional team, taking away the run and turning up the pressure on quarterback Case Keenum.

“I thought he had a lot of time in the first half, patting the ball back there and [we] couldn't cover him quick enough,” linebacker Daryl Washington said. “So we was able to come out [in the] second half and play our game of football.”

Bethel
Bethel blocks: Even when they prepared specifically for Justin Bethel, the Texans couldn't stop the second-year gunner from having an impact on special teams. Bethel blocked his second career field goal with four seconds left in the first half, coming off the left side. It turned out to be the difference in the Cardinals' 27-24 win.

“You never know,” he said. “You never know what could happen. I made the play, it happened and I'm just happy we won.”

Texans interim coach Wade Phillips said his team singled Bethel out, but even then Houston couldn't block him.

“[No.] 31 is the guy that we emphasized,” Phillips said. “It's the guy that we've got to stop because he's the field goal blocker, and he did it.”

Just enough: Ellington had 15 touches Sunday -- 11 rushes and two catches -- which was mostly in line with his past few games. He had 55 yards on the ground and 18 yards through the air, but Arians feels that's the right mix for now.

“I think it's right where it needs to be,” Arians said. “He had plenty again today.”

Rashard Mendenhall fumbled late in the fourth quarter as the Cardinals were trying to seal the win, but that didn't diminish Arian's belief in his starter. It's still the same.

“Oh yeah,” Arians said. “There's no doubt.”

Locker Room Buzz: Arizona Cardinals

November, 10, 2013
11/10/13
9:10
PM ET
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Observed in the locker room after the Arizona Cardinals' 27-24 win against the Houston Texans.

Ellington
Surprise, surprise: Rookie running back Andre Ellington said coach Bruce Arians surprised him Monday with plans for the Wildcat. Ellington had run it before in college, so he was used to playing behind center, but he said his arm isn’t good enough to throw passes.

Whislin’ Dixie: Arians said he thought three whistles were blown before running back Rashard Mendenhall fumbled late in the fourth quarter. And he's not the only one. Another offensive player said he thought the play was whistled dead before Texas defensive end J.J. Watt stripped Mendenhall.

Never out of it: A reporter began a question to Andre Roberts by informing the wide receiver that at 5-4 the Cardinals were now in the playoff hunt. Roberts didn’t miss a beat with his reponse: “Yeah, I didn’t know we were out of the playoff hunt.”

Bean counters: Veteran linebacker Karlos Dansby dropped two more interceptions Sunday, and his teammates took notice. He's had a handful throughout the season, and after every one, he gets a good ribbing. After the Houston game, Larry Fitzgerald smiled and laughed a little before telling the media that he's definitely counting up Dansby's drops.

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