Atlanta Falcons: Playoffs Are Not the Time to Try to Force Turner
With a receiving trio as good as the one the Atlanta Falcons have, there's no questioning why Dirk Koetter implemented the pass-first offense that he did in his first year as the team's offensive coordinator.
Roddy White and Julio Jones both eclipsed 1,000 yards receiving on the year and combined for 17 receiving touchdowns. Tony Gonzalez, the future Hall of Famer, has been quarterback Matt Ryan's security blanket and nearly broke the 1,000 yard mark himself. Gonzalez has also been a major red-zone target.
With Atlanta's offensive evolution complete, it's hard to believe that just last year pundits were still calling this a run-first team, though most probably weren't paying enough attention to see that it was obvious this franchise was going to escalate or descend with the progress of Matt Ryan.
Ryan came through this year with 32 touchdown passes and 4,719 passing yards. Both totals are franchise records for a single season.
Despite the obvious fact this team is built to spread the ball around through the air, Atlanta waited all season to see a glimpse of a decent running game.
It didn't happen.
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Michael Turner only rushed for 800 yards in 16 games, which amounts for a measly total of 50 yards a game. His 3.6 yards-per-carry average is well below respectable.
What we've seen from Turner all season is a really slow first step, major lack of lateral movement and an inability to get to the second level.
When Turner was successful in his first few years in Atlanta, it was because his offensive line blocked the front line well enough that he could get to the second level. Michael Turner at the second level of a defense means trouble because of his size and center of gravity, but this season he hasn't been able to get there.
For whatever reason, the offensive line has not been able to get the same type of push. That might be attributed to the fact starting guard Garrett Reynolds was placed on injury reserve, forcing in rookie Peter Konz (who was drafted to be the heir apparent at center when Todd McClure retires). Also, it's hard to argue one guy on the offensive line can make a difference, but the Falcons sure did push people around more when Harvey Dahl was digging in in an Atlanta uniform.
At the end of the day, the fact of the matter is Atlanta simply cannot run the football effectively with Michael Turner.
It can see an effective attack with Jacquizz Rodgers, and even third-string tailback Jason Snelling. In fact, I've thought all season that Jason Snelling is the best complete back on this football team. In 2009, Snelling proved he was a formidable tailback. He has a good combination of size (5'11", 234 lbs.) and agility. He's a more violent runner.
Rodgers has also begun to showcase his own abilities, especially between the tackles. He's a quick and hard-to-hit specimen at 5'7".
As I asserted in an article earlier this season, Rodgers and Snelling are backs that can actually function with a so-so offensive line, whereas Turner cannot. Both of them are also better backs out of the backfield, which fits them into the things Koetter and the no-huddle offense do.
Earlier in the season it was pretty obvious that Turner's tenure as the Falcons' starting running back was coming to a close, and many believe general manager Thomas Dimitroff will be eyeing a free-agent tailback or someone through the draft to replace Turner as the feature back in this offense.
But while focusing on what's left for 2012, which could be a Super Bowl, Atlanta needs to do what's best for its offense right now.
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What's best for this offense is Michael Turner being featured as little as possible. Koetter could have used Rodgers and Snelling more during the regular season to get them into a rhythm, but he stuck with Turner and didn't see results.
The Falcons will want to establish at least an effective running game to balance the passing attack if they want to see considerable success in the postseason, but they won't get that if Koetter forces Turner.
Two things probably need to happen for this team to succeed. One, Rodgers and Snelling need to get more playing time.
Two, Koetter needs to hand the wheel over to Ryan and trust him. In the past, we've seen Atlanta's offense lock up and tighten in playoff games under Mike Mularkey.
Spreading out and giving Ryan the freedom to make calls at the line gives the Falcons the best chance at controlling the clock, despite the fact running the football has traditionally been associated with ball control.
Atlanta simply cannot control the football with Turner toting the rock.
Another benefit of implementing Rodgers and Snelling more, as stated earlier, is their better cohesiveness within the no-huddle, spread system. Both backs are extra receivers and will function better, giving Ryan the ability to better mask passes and runs and keep the defense on its heels.
Yes, it's been upsetting that a player as likable as Michael Turner has struggled and obviously been very disappointed this year, but now is not the time to try to console him.
Who should Atlanta feature at tailback in 2013?
It's time to finally win a playoff game. Koetter's personnel decisions and Ryan's decisions at the line of scrimmage will get that done.
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