By Lucas McMillan
The Arizona Cardinals, one of the most surprising teams in the NFL, are 4-2 through the first six weeks of the season. However, their two losses have come in the last two weeks, and the team looks to be losing the head of steam it had as it charged through four nail-biting wins to open the year.
The story has been the Cardinals defense, one of the most ferocious units in the NFL, but the offense has been somewhat suspect. To make matters worse, the Cards lost their top two running backs, Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams, to injury.
Wells suffered a severe turf toe injury and was placed on IR, where he’ll remain for at least seven weeks. Williams sustained a shoulder injury that will require surgery, knocking him out for the season.
How will the Cards’ offense cope with the losses of their two best running backs? They showed how against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday: get the most out of the next man up. Running back William Powell had an effective day running the ball against a porous Bills defense, rushing for 70 yards on 13 carries, averaging a robust 5.4 yards per rush attempt on the day.
LaRod Stephens-Howling, the player expected to pick up the most slack in the wake of the rash of injuries in the backfield, had a less impressive day, rushing for only 22 yards on 11 carries. However, Powell showed that he can be a more-than-serviceable option in the Cardinals running game for the remainder of the season. In fact, he may even be better than Wells.
Prior to his injury, Wells wasn’t exactly lighting the world on fire. His injury made news because he is a recognizable name (mostly for his collegiate doings), but his performance on Sundays hasn’t always backed up that recognition. He had only rushed for 76 yards on 29 carries prior to his injury, which averages out to a dismal 2.9 yards per attempt.
Outside of a good game against the Eagles, Williams hadn’t performed much better. He had rushed for 164 yards on 58 carries for 2.4 yards per attempt. Compared to those two dismal averages, Powell’s 5.4 yards per carry against the Bills looks like Barry Sanders numbers.
In the Larry Fitzgerald era of the Arizona Cardinals, running the ball has never taken top priority. Whether this was a function of having two of the best receivers in modern football history in Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin or simply not having the personnel at running back, the rushing attack has never really worked in Arizona.
Edgerrin James got called in for a few seasons at the end of his career, and then the team took Wells with the hope that he could finally provide a long-term solution at the position. He’s shown flashes of brilliance (he rushed for over 1,000 yards last season and scored 10 touchdowns), but he isn’t a consistent Pro Bowl-caliber running back just yet.
The loss of Wells and Williams certainly isn’t a good thing for this conservative Cardinals offense, but it isn’t the worst thing either: the Cards managed to rip off four straight wins with both of them playing pretty darn average. The team is not going to get worse levels of play out of their replacements than 2.9 and 2.4 yards per rushing attempt, so the Cards offense should stay pretty even-keeled even without the two top RBs on the depth chart.
Lucas McMillan is a writer for FootballSchedule.me. To checkout the week-by-week Arizona Cardinals schedule as well as the latest NFL and college football news, visit Football Schedule. Follow Football Schedule on Facebook and Twitter @FBSchedule.