How Can Arizona Cardinals Turn LaRod Stephens-Howling into Elite NFL Weapon?

Nick KostoraContributor IIIOctober 29, 2012

GLENDALE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 23:  Running back LaRod Stephens-Howling #36 of the Arizona Cardinals rushes the football past defensive end Jason Babin #93 of the Philadelphia Eagles during the NFL game at the University of Phoenix Stadium on September 23, 2012 in Glendale, Arizona.  The Carindals defeated the Eagles 27-6.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Despite the Arizona Cardinals' offensive struggles, they possess a potentially lethal weapon in LaRod Stephens-Howling.

Stephens-Howling may have started the season buried on the depth chart beneath Ryan Williams and Beanie Wells, but injuries to those two have opened the door for him to shine.

Granted, it is tough for anyone to breakout when they are stuck behind the abysmal offensive line currently employed by the Cardinals, but Stephens-Howling has been impressive nonetheless.

Against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 7 he rushed for 104 yards on 20 carries and found the endzone. Watching him find such a great deal of success against a team like the Vikings raises an interesting question: How can Arizona turn Stephens-Howling into an elite NFL weapon?

Let's break down some steps the Cardinals can take to ensure his success:


Force feed him the ball

The term elite can often be thrown around far too liberally in today's sports landscape. Any Joe "Schmo" can get the elite treatment after one good game, but Stephens-Howling has the potential to earn that moniker.

His road to glory starts with a heavy workload from the Cardinals. So far, he has been given 20 carries in a game only once this season. As with any other back, Stephens-Howling needs a multitude of carries to settle into a rhythm and find the holes and gaps in a defense.

At 5'7" 185 pounds, he may never be a between the tackles powerhouse, but Stephens-Howling is a versatile player that can embarrass defenders on the edges and in open spaces. Arizona must find ways to get the ball in his hands. Such as...


Utilize him in the passing game

The Cardinals QB struggles have been well documented throughout the season. Whether Kevin Kolb or John Skelton has lined up under center, the results have been similarly disappointing.

Part of the reason for their struggles stem from the fact that Arizona's offensive line refuses to block anything. The Cardinals' front five is easily the worst unit in football. Because of this, Arizona needs to work around these deficiencies. Stephens-Howling is a tremendous weapon that is not being fully utilized.

Swing passes out of the backfield, quick screens and shallow curls in gaps over the middle of the field are all "blitz beater" type plays that can hide offensive line struggles. Stephens-Howling has the added ability of taking these plays and stretching them into game breaking type snaps.


Find him a "thunder" back

In today's NFL, the "thunder and lightning" backfield has become prevalent and necessary. A small back like Stephens-Howling can only benefit from having a big bruising type RB that can spell him and gain the tough yards.

Why force the 185 pound Stephens-Howling up the middle on 3rd and 1 when a 225 pounder can gain those same yards with less risk of injury?

Stephens-Howling must be put into the best possible position to succeed and that is on first and second down when the entire playbook is at Arizona's disposal.


Final Thoughts

At this point, Stephens-Howling is nothing more than a player with endless potential that is yet to be lived up to. However, if he can find continued success in Arizona, it will go a long way towards proving his value to the rest of the NFL.

The Cardinals must get him more involved in the short-to-intermediate passing game and afford him the opportunity to rush the ball upwards of 20 times per game.

These are not easy tasks, but Arizona has a great weapon at their disposal and must find ways to properly use him. 

If they do, Stephens-Howling may be headed down the long road towards elite status.