NFC Championship 2013: Michael Turner Needs Stellar Performance

Andrew GouldFeatured ColumnistJanuary 18, 2013

After a lackluster regular season, Michael Turner is beginning to heat up at the right time.
After a lackluster regular season, Michael Turner is beginning to heat up at the right time.Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Michael Turner returned from the dead last week to send the Atlanta Falcons to the NFC Championship Game. Atlanta now needs him to stay alive for at least one more game.

The Burner looked burned out throughout the season, averaging a career-worst 3.6 yards per carry. The once explosive back showed no burst, barely topping the 100-yard plateau in just two games.

While he did not reach that mark against the Seattle Seahawks, he made the most of few carries. In 14 attempts, Turner accumulated 98 yards, including a 33-yard play that represents his longest run since Week 13.

He had a spring in his step and a burst to his breaks. Atlanta has seen little of this Turner since the beginning of the 2011 season, and they can't afford for him to fade away again.

For the first time in a while, Turner looked impossible to drag down. 

Although the Falcons have wisely let Matt Ryan loose and allowed him to take over the offense, they need some productivity from Turner to keep the 49ers bullish pass rush honest.

Few teams are able to run the ball down San Francisco's throat, but Seattle showed it was possible by tallying 176 yards in their Week 16 showdown. That's probably the 49ers' worst loss of the season, but their second roughest defeat came against the New York Giants with the help of a surprising 116-yard performance from Ahmad Bradshaw.

Establish a running game against this tough defense and good things can happen.

Last week's game plan from Atlanta is one worth repeating against San Francisco. Let Ryan run the show and split touches in the backfield between Turner and scat-back Jacquizz Rodgers.

There's no reason to wear down the 30-year-old RB or believe that one impressive outing is an indicator that they should revert back to implementing a comprehensive ground-and-pound offense. Keep Turner fresh and defenses honest with two polar opposite rushers.

Turner is no longer a stud who can line up and run down the defense's gut even when it knows what's coming. If Atlanta goes back to their old conservative ways, they'll suffer similar playoff results from previous years.

But Turner proved last week that he's not completely washed up. If they limit his workload and utilize a pass-first mentality, Turner can catch defenders off guard for some sizable gains that were lacking throughout most of 2012.

Atlanta shouldn't expect Turner to compile 150 yards, and they certainly shouldn't take the ball out of the hands of Ryan and his exceptional receivers to feed Turner 30 times.

Just give him another 15 carries and hope that Turner makes them good ones. If he can average seven yards per run again, Atlanta's offense should do its part to send the team to New Orleans for Super Bowl XLVII.