Part of a new campaign the SB Nation NFL blogs will be participating in during this 2014 season involves answering questions posed by Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk. Faulk, who is also an analyst at NFL Network, asked his latest question in the video above.
Arizona and Philly have two of the best dual-threat running backs in the league. I call these two guys "Three-Down Running Backs." To be GMC Professional Grade, you must be calculated in your approach. Let’s talk defense: If the opposing running back has a career day in yardage against your team’s defense, which skill set—running or receiving—would hurt your team the most? Let me know why.
Before I answer the question, let's take a look at how Philadelphia's defense has held up against opposing running backs so far this season:
Rushing defense: 160 carries, 581 yards, 3.63 average, 2 TD
Receiving defense: 25 receptions, 279 yards, 11.16 average, 3 TD
The Eagles have largely kept opposing running backs in check on the ground but have been exposed a few times through the air. Ahmad Bradshaw scored two redzone receiving touchdowns against the Eagles in Week 2. Roy Helu and Frank Gore each caught a pass of 55 yards against the Philadelphia defense. Helu's yards came on a poorly defended screen and Gore caught a catch-and-run touchdown pass due to a blown coverage. If you take away these two big plays, the Eagles are only giving up 169 yards on 23 receptions for an average of 7.25.
Now, back to the question. Arizona running back Andre Ellington turned some heads in his rookie year. Though he sat out of the 2013 Eagles-Cardinals game due to injury, Ellington rushed for 652 yards on 118 attempts for 3 touchdowns and a strong 5.5 average. He also pitched in with 39 receptions for 371 yards and 1 touchdown. That was good for a total of 1,023 yards from scrimmage and 4 touchdowns. Ellington hasn't been overly impressive as a rusher so far this season with only 393 yards on 105 attempts for an unimpressive 3.7 average and 1 touchdown. As a receiver, however, he's contributed 260 yards on 25 receptions for a 10.4 average and 1 touchdown. Ellington's combined rushing and receiving yards brings him to a total of 653 yards from scrimmage. Only four Cardinals players since 1960 have had more yards from scrimmage than Ellington's total through six games.
The Eagles are more likely to be hurt through the air by Ellington than they are on the ground. To answer Faulk's question, however, it would be more damaging for the Eagles if the Cardinals somehow got their rushing attack going. If Philadelphia can shut down the Cardinals ground game, Arizona won't have the run to set up the pass. With the Eagles pass rush looking strong in recent weeks (16 sacks in the past 3 games), the Cardinals could be at a disadvantage on offense.
Ellington has been dealing with a partially torn tendon in his foot this season. Ellington isn't likely to miss game action, but the injury has prevented him from practicing. The Eagles will have to do their best to keep him on check on Sunday afternoon.