That’s understandable. For the previous four seasons, Turner was the backbone of Atlanta’s offense. This season, however, age appears to be catching up to Turner. He’s looked slow at times and Atlanta’s running game hasn’t been much of a factor in most games.
Mike Smith, who generally is one of the more pleasant coaches in the NFL, got a little defensive Monday when asked by the media if the Falcons were starting to phase Turner out and give more playing time to second-year pro Jacquizz Rodgers.
"No, it doesn’t,’’ Smith said. “Guys, again, I think we’ve been very transparent from the very beginning. I’ve been saying this since April that you’re not going to look up at the end of the season and see Michael Turner having 300 carries. That’s not the type of football team we are. We may have been that type of team when we first got here, but we’re a completely different football team and I think our statistics and our ratios define that. We’re going to be an offense that we are going to move the ball around to our different assets and we’ve got a lot of assets. Michael Turner is an asset as well as Jacquizz Rodgers and as well as Jason Snelling in our backfield.’’
Smith is right in saying that the Falcons have been transparent about this being a year of change for their offensive philosophy. Soon after coordinator Dirk Koetter was hired in January, he indicated the Falcons would go with more of a pass-first approach. And Smith was a little conservative in saying April was when the Falcons first began signaling a reduced work load for Turner. I remember him talking about limiting Turner’s carries during the NFL owners meeting in March and he may have hinted at it even before that.
But a big part of the logic behind all that was to attempt to keep Turner fresh all season. Turner has shown little to indicate the new approach is helping him. In the past, he was the kind of running back that needed a bunch of carries to really have an impact. Smith is right when he says the Falcons aren’t that kind of team anymore.
Still, on days like Sunday when quarterback Matt Ryan was throwing five interceptions, it would have been nice to turn back to Turner -- or even Rodgers and Snelling -- and the ground game. That didn’t happen. The Falcons managed only 58 yards rushing against the Cardinals.
I strongly suspect you’ll see major changes in Atlanta’s backfield in the offseason and there could be moves on the offensive line that will be designed to improve the run game. But, for the time being, I don’t think you’re going to see any miracle cures or dramatic changes in playing time.
If the Falcons thought Rodgers was a feature back, he’d already be in that role. He’s not and Turner remains there.
Perhaps more than ever the Falcons need to realize they’re a pass-first offense. Of course, they can’t afford to throw five interceptions (or anything close to that) going forward because they can’t turn back to the running game to bail them out.