Michael Turner and the Atlanta Falcons are at a crossroads. The once run-heavy Falcons have transitioned to pass-first team. Turner was built for a ground-and-pound offense. Now, the future of both could be in jeopardy.
This could all be decided on Sunday when the Falcons take on the Seattle Seahawks.
Turner's Heavy Burden
Turner took Atlanta by storm in 2008. The Falcons desperately needed a strong running back to shield their rookie quarterback, Matt Ryan. Turner was stuck behind all-time great LaDainian Tomlinson in San Diego. The Falcons made their first free-agent splash under GM Thomas Dimitroff by signing Turner.
Turner quickly made his presence felt. His combination of speed and power were impressive. Seemingly impossible for one man to bring down, Turner earned the nickname "MARTA," after the railway system in Atlanta, and he seemed to carry defenders as if they were commuters.
Turner would lead the Falcons to the playoffs in 2008. While the rookie Ryan was showing promise, the Falcons yoked themselves to Turner as if here a pack mule. Turner rushed for 1,699 yards and 17 touchdowns, but at the cost of 377 carries.
Those 377 carries often included yards after contact. "MARTA" was putting hard miles on his wheels.
Turner would be limited by injury in 2009 and play in only 11 games. The next two years, Turner continued to be steady. He had 1,371 yards on 334 carries in 2010. In 2011, the running back rushed for 1340 yards on 301 carries.
Prior to 2012, Turner had 1,190 carries as a Falcon. It was possible he was slowing down, but that could not explain the season to follow.
Turner's Roller Coaster 2012
Turner should have thrived in 2012. The shift to a more pass-oriented offense and a legitimate No. 2 rusher in Jacquizz Rodgers would mean fewer carries for Turner. Now with fresher legs, Turner should have been able to make the most of his lightened load.
He did not.
And at the worst possible times.
Turner's 2012 stat line does not read like a starter's, much less a star's. This season, he ranked 17th in attempts and 39th in yards per carry. The lightened load proved to be unproductive.
Then there were moments when the spotlight shined too bright. The once-reliable Turner's inability to gain one yard cost the Falcons repeatedly.
The best example was Week 10 against the New Orleans Saints. With the game on the line, Turner was dropped for a loss on 3rd-and-1. Not due to great penetration, either.
Repeatedly in 2012, Turner has been unable to get past his own blockers. Instead, he resembled a bird flying into a window and then slowly sliding down.
This led center Todd McClure to vent to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. McClure made it clear in saying, "I get really frustrated when I hear things and read things knowing there’s more to it than five guys up front but we take the brunt of the blame."
Turner has had his moments. The Falcons' first possession against the New York Giants was all Turner. Imposing his will for the touchdown, Turner reminded everyone what he once could do. And he possibly provided false hope that he could it again.
Dollars Make No Sense
Whether or not he is on the Falcons' 2013 roster, the Falcons will take a $2.5 million cap hit for Turner's prorated signing bonus. The same cannot be said about the $5.5 million salary Turner is scheduled to receive.
According to Rotoworld, Turner is set to earn nearly 10 times what Jacquizz Rodgers will make in 2013.
It is hard to see Turner being 10 times more valuable than Rodgers in 2013.
The chances of Turner returning to the Falcons in 2013 are uncertain. He would seemingly need a miraculous turnaround in the playoffs to make that happen.
Turner, however, does not need miracles to put his wares on display to other potential employers. If he can run with the same aggression as he did versus the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants, the running back might find a multi-year suitor.
If Turner can put a 100-yard game against the Seattle Seahawks, the Falcons might find themselves receiving a few phone calls before the draft.
Yet, if Turner lapses back into his 2012 funk...
Both Turner's future and the Falcons' playoff hopes might find themselves slowly sliding down the glass.