The San Francisco 49ers (1-1) will have another tough task this week as they face yet another solid running back for the third consecutive week in Arizona Cardinals (2-0) RB Andre Ellington. The 49ers who already squared off against underrated but oft-injured Dallas Cowboys RB DeMarco Murray and Chicago Bears RB Matt Forte, will now have to go heads up with Ellington.
A 2013 sixth-round draft pick (No. 187) out of Clemson, Ellington has the elusiveness and speed to be a threat in both the run and pass game. A similar skill-set to his cousin and 49ers rookie fourth-round pick (No. 106) WR Bruce Ellington, the elder Andre will be looking to make a name for himself as he tries to shred the 49ers defense. Through two games, Ellington has 28 carries for 144 yards rushing while adding an additional six receptions for 37 yards receiving. A true dual-threat running back, it’s no wonder the 49ers will have their hands full on Sunday.
And while Ellington fumbled in the season-opener, his game-breaking ability will be enough to make any defense wary. So how can the 49ers front seven stop the diminutive yet shifty running back? By simply winning their one-on-one battles down in the trenches while flushing his cut-back runs back inside.
Ellington loves to work in space and with Cardinals OC Harold Goodwin at the helm, (Jonathan Goodwin’s older brother), you can be sure he will look to get Ellington some real estate to work with. Whether using off-tackle runs or sweeps, Ellington will need to be stopped on initial contact, and it all starts up front.
Led by five-time Pro Bowl DE Justin Smith, it will be up to him to help set the edge. Through two games, Smith has recorded 8 tackles and 3.0 sacks. And while Cowboy is a one-man wrecking crew, he will need help from his other teammates if they want to contain Ellington. From DE Ray McDonald to NT Ian Williams, both of those players must win their battles while shedding their way to Ellington. If McDonald and Smith can set the edge, that will then flush Ellington into unwanted territory back inside, as he will now have to fight for yards with ILB Patrick Willis and ILB Michael Wilhoite.
Two players that absolutely love to hit, the combo of Willis and Wilhoite will be licking their chops as they hit their gaps. Both Willis and Wilhoite have built a strong rapport with each other over the last two seasons and it will be that chemistry that propels them into making big stops at or near the line of scrimmage. Not to mention, Ellington will then likely be used solely as a receiving threat if the run game is stalled, look for then OLB Ahmad Brooks and OLB Aaron Lynch to make some plays as they hunt Ellington on those quick flats (1-route) from behind.
If the 49ers can create pressure up front that should bode well for their defense as they try and make the Cardinals one-dimensional. A smart defense led by DC Vic Fangio, he will likely use a good mix of personnel in order to create those favorable match-ups all while containing Ellington out of the backfield. A solid running back who has the ability to be a good one, look for Ellington to be contained as I predict him to have a stat line similar to 18 carries for 81 yards rushing with an additional six catches for 36 yards receiving.