GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Andre Ellington wasn't built to be an every-down running back, according to Arizona coach Bruce Arians, who believes the Cardinals rookie has the talent but not the desired body to carry the ball 20 or more times a game.
Arians may have to rethink that observation after watching the speedy Ellington run for 154 yards on 15 carries Sunday, including an 80-yard touchdown scamper, as Arizona wore down the Atlanta Falcons 27-13 at University of Phoenix Stadium.
It was the first time since last November the Cardinals had a running back rush for 100 yards. Ellington started Sunday in place of veteran Rashard Mendenhall, who didn't play because of a toe injury that has nagged him for much of the season.
Healthy or not, Mendenhall might have a problem getting his job back after Ellington's performance.
Arians said he would review the game tape before making any evaluations, but he said the victory was hatched Monday when he put his players in pads and ran them through a heavy-contact practice.
"We had a training camp practice," he said. "A lot of teams would balk at that, but our leadership and our veterans, we had the best practice we've had all year. It set the tempo for this game, and it set the tempo for the rest of this season."
The Cardinals (4-4) snapped a two-game skid. They outgained the Falcons 348 yards to 292, and they held Atlanta to 27 rushing yards on 14 total carries.
The Falcons (2-5) lost for the fourth time in five games, further distancing themselves from any thought of returning to the playoffs after reaching the NFC Championship Game last season.
The Cardinals intercepted Matt Ryan four times, making it look a little reminiscent of last year's game, when they picked off Ryan five times. Atlanta pulled out that game, 23-19, but not this one.
"We have to continue to dig and dig out of the hole we're in," Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "We did not play very good football today."
What the Cardinals said
"It's obviously a big win, but we've got a long way to go. We've got a lot of work to do. We're going to worry about (win) No. 5 and not worry about anything else. We're not going to worry about No. 6 and not worry about anything else. Nothing has been accomplished. We haven't done anything yet." -- QB Carson Palmer.
What the Falcons said
"We'll have to evaluate it when we get a chance to look at the film, but we just didn't get it going for whatever reason. I'm not sure. We'll try to find a way to be better and run the football. Moving forward, I think that would help us, but we weren't very good today." -- QB Matt Ryan.
What we learned about the Cardinals
1. It's clear Andre Ellington needs to become a much bigger part of the offense, even if coach Bruce Arians says he doesn't project as an every-down back. He's too quick and dynamic not to use him more and Sunday's game proved it. "I guess we're going to stay with him and move forward with him, but we will see," cornerback Patrick Peterson said. "I think we have a great group of running backs that can help us throughout the season."
2. Though they haven't been the greatest against the pass this season, the Cardinals are stacked with playmakers, especially in the secondary. That rang true in a big way Sunday with four interceptions of Matt Ryan passes. "They're really good," Falcons receiver Drew Davis said of the Cardinals defense. "They have a couple corners who can play man coverage, who are built to play man coverage. They have a good front seven who can get to the quarterback, so you know you don't have nearly as much time to pass. You have to be quick and precise in your plays and in your plan."
What we learned about the Falcons
1. Matt Ryan is hurting badly without his top two wide receivers, Julio Jones and Roddy White. Harry Douglas stepped up with a huge game (12 catches, 121 yards), but there just wasn't enough help elsewhere amongst the receivers to turn a short catch into a bigger yard-gainer. Tony Gonzalez only had three receptions. He was targeted eight times.
2. With no running game, the Falcons have zero balance and it allows teams like the Cardinals to come after the quarterback with a fury. That's what happened on Sunday as Atlanta could only muster 27 total rushing yards. Steven Jackson started the game after missing the previous four with a strained hamstring, but he was completely ineffective, rushing 11 times for just six yards.