Do Da Dirty Bird: Debating Michael Turner's '09 Outlook...With Myself

John McCurdyCorrespondent IAugust 2, 2009

ATLANTA - DECEMBER 14: Running back Michael Turner #33 of the Atlanta Falcons rushes upfield against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers  at the Georgia Dome on December 14, 2008 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

Within each of us is both an optimist and a pessimist. In the editions of DDDB thus far, you, the readers, have seen mostly the knee-jerk Falcon defender, glass-is-half-full side of me. Today, though, I'm going to invite my other half out.

He's the realist. He hears the haters all too loudly and clearly, and takes a bit too much of what they say to heart. He loves the Dirty Birds dearly, but never displays it outwardly, always maintaining cynicism. This, he thinks, prevents him from being heartbroken when his team inevitably disappoints him.

Everyone, welcome to the forum Mr. Storm-and-Clouds himself, "Dirty Doubter", as he debates with my sunnier disposition (let's call him "Bucky Bird") over Michael Turner's chances at another productive, injury-free season.

We're wondering: Was the Burner's huge 2008 workload (376 carries!) a virtual guarantee for an injury in '09? Will a tougher schedule cause his numbers to plummet? And what is the team going to do to help him out?

All will be moderated by the mysterious "Man in Italics." I'll let him take it away with our first question.

A lot is being made of how the passing game improved last season, and how, with the addition of Tony Gonzalez and maturation of Roddy White and Harry Douglas, it will improve even more this season. Will it get much better, and how will that help take the pressure off the Burner? To you first, Mr. Doubter.

Dirty Doubter: There's so much of this going around, and I'd love to believe it, but the passing game taking another huge step forward just is not going to happen.

Tony is old, people; what is he, 40? He's certainly past his pass-catching prime. And if he does start catching a bunch of passes and Matty Ice starts using him as a bail-out, won't that make our offense predictable again? That's what we're trying to avoid here, after all, defenses knowing that the ball is going to Michael every down.

Besides, Ryan is going to have on heck of a sophomore slump considering the difference in competition this season.

Bucky Bird: So you're saying, Doubter, that the addition of Gonzo and the natural improvements of both Ryan and the receivers are going to do nothing to help out the running game?

Turner carried as many times as he did last season because handing the rock off to him was frequently the most effective thing the offense could do. The difference is there are more weapons in the passing game now. Some might be past their physical primes and others may still be working towards mental stability, but bottom line, there are more able bodies, and that at worst would mean marginal improvement.

Good points, both of you, but I'd have to say Bucky's make more sense; the passing game certainly won't be any worse.

Next up, I want to know what you think about Turner's running style and mentality. Does his deliberate, up-the-gut manner make him more or less likely to continue his success?

DD: I don't care what your style is, any time a guy carries the ball over 350 times in a season, he's going to come back slower the next. Turner had to absorb an awful lot of contact in '08, as evidenced by his number of broken tackles, so there's no way that in just his second year of being a feature back he's going to be 100 percent.

Mike doesn't always need a fullback because of his build; you see him finding holes for himself quite frequently. But it would do his flesh and bones some good if he could learn to run behind somebody every now and then.

BB: Yes, every NFL running back takes a beating (both physical and psychological, no doubt). But Turner is better prepared to handle it and bounce back because he's so compact and patient.

He might go up-the-gut, but he doesn't do so in an Adrian-Peterson sort-of-way, just charging into the tackles. He seeks out holes and weaves in, though his frame does seem to attract bruising no matter how wide the gap.

Dirty's right in that no man can carry the kind of load Burner did last season for two campaigns in a row. But perhaps his frame and personal choices put him just slightly ahead of others in his situation, like Bird mentioned.

Now, let's say Turner's carries do decrease a little, to preserve him. Obviously, some of those plays freed up will become passing plays, but what about the other carries and the man they'll likely go to, Jerious Norwood? How do you feel about Norwood as a pro back?

BB: Jerious is a great complement to Turner. He's blazingly fast, open-field or otherwise, and loves attacking the edges and even running reverses. Him running a crescent to the outside right after Michael charges up the middle is an excellent way to mix it up.

Plus, Norwood is about to be a free agent. Don't tell me that won't motivate him. Surely he's inspired by Turner, who left a backup role to become a successful feature back?

DD: Jerious has done very little to impress me so far. He's got breakout capability, yes, but he's really done the most damage with that on special teams.

The number's don't lie: He barely sniffed 500 yards last season. Yep, Turner was the focus, but I think that was for good reason. Norwood lacks the size to ever be a starter, and he's at best a so-so spell back.

Interesting takes. We'll have to see just how many more touches Norwood gets this season and what he does with them. Note that before Burner came to the ATL, when Jerious was more featured, he wasn't as reliable as one would hope of a starter.

But anyway, about this rough new schedule. Is facing the NFC East and AFC East instead of the AFC West and NFC North going to be a wake-up call for the offense and result in a big decline for Turner?

DD: In a word, um, yes. The Falcons really had it made in '08, getting the two weakest divisions in the league and a fourth-place docket. Good thing the NFL has established this leviathan of parity scheduling to drag any and all upstarts back down to the depths.

Seeing the Patriots' linebackers, the Giants' defensive line, and the Cowboys' and Eagles' balanced units absolutely cannot help Michael Turner's numbers. He's got an OK line in front of him, but it's old in the center, young on the outside, and really, really shallow. An injury to a trench man could mean Mike getting caught behind the line repeatedly, especially when facing guys like DeMarcus Ware, Justin Tuck, and Jerod Mayo.

These are just straight-up better teams, and they won't let Turner sneak up on them.

BB: My esteemed opponent seems to have forgotten that Burner only got better with experience against good defenses last year. He increased yardage against Carolina by 61 and hit Minnesota up for a TD in Week 16. Don't tell me they didn't have time to prepare!

Jon Beason, A.J. Hawk, and the Scotts (Shanle and Fujita) of the Saints are not players to be sneezed at, yet Turner did alright when he faced them. Besides, individual defenders don't create match up problems for him; he creates match up problems for entire opposing units.

See what you're saying, Bird, but I'd agree with Doubter that we're talking about a whole new level of team with the new opponents.

To close things up, though, let's talk about old opponents; those NFC South teams that we played twice last year and will play twice again this year. Obviously, some key games in that schedule, as this division has become as tough as practically any other. Will Tampa, Carolina, and New Orleans be prepared for Turner this season?

BB: Maybe I'm just too Southern, or too much of traditionalist, but I just don't see the I formation with a back like Turner (and he is made for the I) losing its effectiveness, no matter how many times a defense has seen it. Michael improved his rushing totals over the two-game series with both Carolina and Tampa Bay last year, and just about held steady against N.O.

However those teams chose to adapt through the course of last season, it didn't work all that well, now did it? We've already talked about how the passing game and increased carries for Norwood will keep teams guessing.

You can put yourself on the tracks in front of the train, but that don't stop it comin'.

DD: Wow, way to be a hillbilly. The I is becoming a novelty as more and more offenses go to West Coast or even Wildcat.

The Saints' D is better, and not just because Jonathan Vilma is back. New coordinator Gregg Williams could really turn New Orleans into a threat on both ends.

And just as you say there's "no way" the passing game could get worse, there's "no way" that the other NFC South defenses are going to be worse prepared for Turner. If you think they're twiddling their thumbs, waiting for the Falcons to bulldoze them...

BB: Ever thought that because other offenses are getting more attention, I formation is getting more dangerous as teams get less familiar with it?

And no team in the NFC South was in the top half of the league in opponent rushing yards per game, and it'll take a lot of Vilmas and Williamses to change that...

DD: Defense is about changing during the course of a game. If these teams couldn't do it that fast in 2008, they're probably caught up by now.

Think of it this way: A kid touches a hot stove, and it burns him. Is he going to...

Er, great job, gentlemen, but I'm going to have to cut you off there. Thanks to both of you for expressing your intriguing opinions on the Falcons' and Michael Turner's outlook.


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