The Arizona Cardinals have lost Ryan Williams for the rest of the season to a shoulder injury that will require surgery. Replacing Ryan Williams may seem like a daunting task, but losing his 2.8 yards per carry and zero rushing touchdowns is not as bad as it may seem. Arizona has been terrible this year running the ball. Some of the blame for that goes to the offensive line, but Williams has a distressing tendency to dance around behind the line and try to break runs outside, which results in losses more often than not. Williams was the feature back in Arizona before his injury, now Coach Ken Whisenhunt plans to platoon the three running backs left on the roster to replace him. LaRod Stevens-Howling is coming back healthy, and looks forward to taking his spot in shotgun sets and as third down running back. William Powell, who led the preseason in rushing, will get a chance to prove himself as an NFL quality back. Lastly, Alfonso Smith is back, cut in the preseason after losing his spot to Powell, Smith knows the Arizona system well and looks to contribute in the Cardinals depth deprived backfield.
The Cardinals are confident their platoon running back situation will work. If it does not, some new blood may be necessary to revive the running game. Some of the names tossed around have been Tim Hightower, Joseph Addai, Steve Slaton, and Chris Ivory. We can eliminate most of those right now, Hightower is coming off a serious injury, and Redskins.com reports he had a setback in his treatment before being cut by Washington. Steve Slaton is a liability in pass protection, and struggles to even hold on to the ball consistently. Joseph Addai is tempting, his pass protection is very good, he is a consummate professional, and leader in the clubhouse, but his skills are declining with age. That leaves the Saints fourth string running back Chris Ivory, or trading for someone else. Chris Ivory is fourth string for a reason, he has not seen the field this season because the Saints have more talented people, but if the Cardinals can have him for a late round pick it might be worth it.
Arizona may want to look a bit further and address their future at running back right now. Beanie Wells may not be back next year, and with Ryan Williams essentially missing two years straight after hitting the Injured Reserve again, the Cardinals future at running back is in question. There are two superstar quality running backs splitting time in other cities, and Arizona should look at giving up a higher draft pick to take one as their next star. The Buffalo Bills, who come to Arizona this week, have two amazing running backs in C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson. Whether the Cardinals could pry one of them off Buffalo is in question, but Spiller is likely the one Buffalo would want to keep. Spiller is younger, faster, and Jackson’s injuries the last two years have decreased his value. The other backup running back potential superstar is Ben Tate of the Houston Texans. Tate may be the best insurance policy in the NFL. As long as the Texans have Arian Foster, Tate will always be second string, but the Texans love the ability to get Foster rest with Tate running effectively. Either of these players would require a major trade, and the Cardinals have plenty of needs to address other than running back. If the Cardinals make a trade, it would a booming shout that Arizona wants to win now.
The Cardinals currently lead the NFL’s toughest division, but have shown major problems that darkly underscore their 4-1 record. The Cardinals will go into this weeks game against the Bills using their three back system, and whether we see The Cardinals make a trade later may depend on the success of Arizona’s rushing attack in this game.