NFL Nation: Rashard Mendenhall

The Steelers have nine picks in the 2014 NFL draft after adding three compensatory selections based on free-agent losses last year.

The Steelers were awarded third-round, fifth-round and sixth-round picks Monday by the NFL. They effectively recovered the pick they traded last year when they dealt their 2014 third-round selection for the Browns’ fourth-round pick.

The Steelers used the pick to draft safety Shamarko Thomas.

The Steelers’ received the highest compensatory pick as their third-round selection is 97th overall. The other two picks they were awarded are 173rd and 215th overall, respectively.

Wide receiver Mike Wallace, cornerback Keenan Lewis and running back Rashard Mendenhall were among the players the Steelers lost via free agency last year.

The extra picks come at a good time for the Steelers.

General manager Kevin Colbert has said this is the deepest draft he has seen since he broke into the NFL, and the Steelers have to replenish a defense that is in transition. It's also a team that has needs on offense.

The Steelers have a pick in each of the seven rounds. They have two selections apiece in the fifth and sixth rounds of the draft.
PITTSBURGH – Add running back to the position at which the Steelers have a need.

Jonathan Dwyer has signed a one-year contact with the Arizona Cardinals, leaving the Steelers with depth issues behind Le’Veon Bell.

Dwyer wrote on his Twitter account on Wednesday night:

Dwyer, released at the end of the 2013 preseason, re-signed with the Steelers in September and rushed for 197 yards on 49 carries while backing up Bell.

Dwyer
Dwyer, ironically, will provide depth at running back for the Cardinals following the retirement of former Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall.

The only other running back on the Steelers' roster is Alvester Alexander, who spent all of last season on the practice squad.

Felix Jones and LaRod Stephens-Howling, who tore his ACL in the Steelers’ season opener last season, are both unrestricted free agents.

The Steelers have lost three free agents, with defensive end Al Woods signing with the Titans, tight end David Johnson signing with the Chargers and Dwyer becoming the latest former Steelers player to relocate to Arizona.
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.

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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."
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That Rashard Mendenhall is walking away from football when he is only slightly north of the age usually required to rent a car is anything but surprising.

To say Mendenhall was different, even when he was at the pinnacle of a short-lived career, one that saw him rush for 1,273 yards and 13 touchdowns in helping the Pittsburgh Steelers make the Super Bowl in 2010, is an understatement.

Mendenhall had a wide array of interests outside of football, from reading and writing and delving into the kind of deep philosophical subjects and debates that made him seem better suited for a college lecture hall or a coffee shop than an NFL locker room.

His decision to retire at age 26 offers confirmation that Mendenhall didn’t love football -- or love it enough once it became his full-time job after the Steelers took the former Illinois star with the 23rd overall pick in the 2008 draft.

What has surprised me is some of the backlash I have seen since news broke about Mendenhall’s decision to pursue a career as an author after just six NFL seasons.

I expected the tweets that took a dig at Mendenhall’s infamous and widely unpopular tweets in the aftermath of the killing of Osama bin Laden, which even drew a public reproach from Steelers president Art Rooney II.

Of course there were the shots at Mendenhall’s fumbling issues as some Steelers’ fans never got over the one he lost against the Green Bay Packers at a critical juncture of Super Bowl XLV, as well as the spin moves that he relied too much on at times.

The kind of reaction I take issue with when it comes to Mendenhall is the misguided notion that he is somehow throwing something away by opting to leave the game while he is still in his prime.

First of all, the average NFL career is between three and four seasons, so Mendenhall exceeded that, and he took a fair pounding along the way. Mendenhall overcame a broken shoulder blade and a torn ACL among other injuries in the five seasons he spent with the Steelers. Turf toe hampered Mendenhall the one season he played for the Cardinals.

He knows his body better than anyone, and maybe Mendenhall is walking away from football while he is still physically able to do so.

He doesn't owe it to anybody to continue playing football, and if writing fulfills Mendenhall more than football does, more power to him for the decision that he has made.

Maybe Mendenhall got out of the game what he wanted all along -- a free education and the financial security that now allows him to pursue what has long been his true passion.

If that is the case, he should be cheered rather than jeered.

It is, after all, his life.
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.”

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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."
TEMPE, Ariz. -- With the ink on Larry Fitzgerald's restructured contracted barely dry, it's time to look at what Arizona may do with the extra cap room the Pro Bowl receiver provided them. Arizona has 15 free agents left to sign after securing punter Dave Zastudil last month, but they won't bring them all back.

I ranked all 15 from highest priority to lowest and told you why:
  1. Karlos Dansby -- He's coming off a career season and was a main cog in a defense that kept getting better. Arizona would take a step back without him.
  2. Matt Shaughnessy -- He filled in better than expected at outside linebacker after injuries decimated the unit, and his length and power coupled with his speed make him a threat from the outside in Todd Bowles' defense.
  3. Andre Roberts -- The Cardinals need a speed receiver to take the top off defenses, but then again, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians had Roberts last year and barely used him.
  4. Antoine Cason -- He proved himself as a tough corner and nickel back after Tyrann Mathieu went down late last season. That could be valuable tape come time to prove his worth to the powers that be.
  5. Eric Winston -- As the season went on, Winston got better, allowing just one sack in the final nine games, according to Pro Football Focus. While left tackle is more important for the Cards, Winston could be the right fit to return at right tackle.
  6. Rashard Mendenhall -- Bringing back Mendenhall isn't a huge priority because it's likely that Andre Ellington takes over the every-down role, but Mendenhall can return in his previous role and continue to mentor Ellington.
  7. Frostee Rucker -- Rucker was the perfect kind of backup for the Cardinals' vaunted defensive line, and at the right price, he could be continue in that role and be a good mentor as the defense continues to grow.
  8. Jay Feely -- Feely was consistent last season, even clutch at times, but a few late season misses left his future with the team in question.
  9. Yeremiah Bell -- Bell provides veteran leadership in a very young secondary but at 35, he's slowing down.
  10. Javier Arenas -- Arenas saw the field most on special teams as a kick returner but was only able to return 23 kicks this year and often frustrated Arians with his decision making. He's a defensive back, too but hasn't impressed in either role.
  11. Jim Dray -- A starter in 2013 Dray was a run blocker but never blossomed into an offense weapon. The Cardinals could find another option who's a combination of both.
  12. Bryan McCann -- McCann filled a much needed role as a gunner across from Justin Bethel when Teddy Williams went down. McCann's role next year will depend on if Williams is brought back.
  13. Mike Gibson -- Gibson was a steady backup on the offensive line and a special teams player in all 16 games, but his return in 2014 will depend on if his $715,000 is worth it for a backup.
  14. Kory Sperry -- Active for just eight of 16 games, Sperry saw most of his playing time on special teams.
  15. Jeff King -- Injured all of last season, King's role was filled by Jake Ballard, a restricted free agent this year.
PITTSBURGH -- Mike Tomlin has another coaching spot to fill, and this time he has to replace one of his most trusted lieutenants.

Running backs Kirby Wilson is leaving Pittsburgh for the same position with the Minnesota Vikings, a source confirmed to ESPN.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette first reported Wilson's departure, which is not yet official, hours after reporting that Wilson was no longer a candidate to become the Ravens’ offensive coordinator.

Wilson twice interviewed for the opening in Baltimore -- he was one of three finalists for the job -- and his departure leaves just five assistants on the staff who have been with Tomlin since he became the Steelers’ head coach in 2007.

The Steelers permitted Wilson to pursue other jobs even though he had one year left on his contract and was significantly involved in crafting game plans.

The one question that will trail Wilson out of Pittsburgh is what might have been for the well-traveled assistant.

Wilson would have been one of the top candidates to take over at offensive coordinator in 2012 after the Steelers did not renew Bruce Arians’ contract. But Wilson was badly burned in house fire about a month earlier, and he couldn’t start working again -- even on a limited basis -- for more three months after the blaze that nearly cost him his life.

The Steelers hired Todd Haley to replace Arians, and when it became apparent that Haley would return in 2014 Wilson started looking around for other opportunities with Tomlin’s blessing.

The loss of Wilson comes three days after the Steelers hired Mike Munchak as their next offensive line coach. Running backs coach is the only position Tomlin is expected to have to fill with both coordinators returning as well as linebackers coach Keith Butler.

Butler had been a candidate to join Ken Whisenhunt’s staff in Tennessee as the defensive coordinator but he never interviewed for the position.

Wilson joins his sixth NFL organization after coaching running backs such as Willie Parker, Rashard Mendenhall and Bell with the Steelers.

Bell, under Wilson’s tutelage, rushed for 860 yards in 2013 despite missing the first three games of the season. The second-round draft pick also broke Franco Harris’ Steelers’ record for yards from scrimmage by a rookie with 1,259 yards and established himself as a focal point of the offense in the coming seasons.

Wilson will join first-year coach Mike Zimmer in Minnesota, and he will work with the best running back in the NFL in Adrian Peterson.

Peterson rushed for 1,266 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2013 despite weathering foot and groin injuries, the latter of which sidelined him for two of the Vikings’ last three games.

Peterson had groin surgery last week but the Vikings said he should be fully healthy after a six-week recovery period.

The next big thing: Cardinals

January, 23, 2014
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What the Arizona Cardinals do in May’s NFL draft will largely be dictated by what they do in free agency.

Their primary focus is on securing a left tackle in free agency, and that could be addressed by luring free agents Branden Albert or Eugene Monroe to Arizona. The Cardinals will also try to find a big safety who can defend tight ends. Defensive backs will also be a priority because four will be free agents this year. But if free agency doesn’t yield who the Cardinals want, don’t expect them just to sign players for the sake of filling out a roster.

As general manager Steve Keim has shown, he can work wonders in the draft. Arizona will try to get a tackle in the first round if they haven’t signed one by then and from there, it'll depend on who’s left on the board but a safety -- it’s a common refrain, but if they haven’t signed one -- and a quarterback will be among their top priorities from there.

The Cardinals will also use the draft and free agency to restock their tight end basin, and if Rashard Mendenhall doesn’t return, another running back could be in the works. Don’t rule out the addition of a third wide receiver to replace Andre Roberts if he walks during free agency, who’s young and fast. That’s most likely a draft project.
PHILADELPHIA -- The good news for Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly is he doesn’t have to spend the next couple months traveling to high school kids’ homes and recruiting them.

The bad news?

"It’s a different league," Kelly said. "This isn't recruiting where you can go out and offer and try to get them to come. There's a selection in the draft process and we're not going to pick until the 22nd [spot in the first round]. There's 21 other guys that we may covet, but we don't have an opportunity to get them."

If a team drafted 22d every year and did well, it could be awfully good. Based on the last 10 years, drafting only players taken between No. 22 and No. 32 (the end of the first round), a team could have Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, wide receivers Dez Bryant and Santonio Holmes, running backs Steven Jackson and Chris Johnson, linebackers Clay Matthews and Nick Perry, safety Brandon Meriweather and defensive linemen Cameron Jordan and Sharrif Floyd.

You could do worse. Plenty of teams did do worse. Cleveland took two quarterbacks, Brady Quinn and Brandon Weeden, at No. 22.

Later we’ll look at some possible players the Eagles could consider at No. 22 in this year’s draft. For now, here’s a quick look at the 22nd pick in each of the past 10 NFL drafts, along with a few players that were on the board at the time (I didn’t go beyond the end of the first round out of fairness; just looking at first-round graded players):

2013: Cornerback Desmond Trufant from Washington, selected by Atlanta.

On the board: Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, WR/Returner Cordarrelle Patterson, defensive end Datone Jones.

2012: Quarterback Brandon Weeden from Oklahoma State, selected by Cleveland.

On the board: Linebackers Dont'a Hightower and Nick Perry, running back Doug Martin.

2011: Offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo from Boston College, selected by Indianapolis.

On the board: Offensive lineman Danny Watkins, defensive end Cameron Jordan, running back Mark Ingram.

2010: Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas from Georgia Tech, selected by Denver.

On the board: Wide receiver Dez Bryant, quarterback Tim Tebow, cornerback Devin McCourty.

2009: Wide receiver Percy Harvin from Florida, selected by Minnesota.

On the board: Offensive tackle Michael Oher, cornerback Vontae Davis, linebacker Clay Matthews.

2008: RB Felix Jones from Arkansas, selected by Dallas.

On the board: Running backs Rashard Mendenhall and Chris Johnson, cornerback Mike Jenkins.

2007: Quarterback Brady Quinn from Notre Dame, selected by Cleveland.

On the board: Wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, safety Brandon Meriweather, linebackers Jon Beason and Anthony Spencer, offensive tackle Joe Staley.

2006: Linebacker Manny Lawson from N.C. State, selected by San Francisco.

On the board: Offensive lineman Davin Joseph, wide receiver Santonio Holmes, running back DeAngelo Williams, defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka.

2005: Wide receiver Mark Clayton from Oklahoma, selected by Baltimore.

On the board: Cornerback Fabian Washington, quarterback Aaron Rodgers, wide receiver Roddy White.

2004: Quarterback J.P. Losman from Tulane, selected by Buffalo.

On the board: Defensive tackle Marcus Tubbs, running back Steven Jackson, defensive end Jason Babin.

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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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.

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.

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