Dating back to last year and continuing into this preseason, there has been a good deal of debate about Michael Turner. The discussion has gone from hemming and hawing about his rumored ineffectiveness to now a handful of Falcoholics calling for him to be "phased out" of the Falcons offense, or worse, cut outright. While I cannot truthfully admit that I'm completely satisfied with the efficiency of the run game, I think it's still way too early to be calling for the Burner's head.
Because much of the recent outrage centers on his performance in the preseason, I have broken down the tape of all 7 runs from Turner against the Steelers. Additionally, I'm going to make a case why removing Turner from the Falcons offense would not be wise (to say the least). Join me after the jump for the breakdown. Disclaimer: This is a longer than normal read.
As we all know and remember fondly, Michael Turner was the prized free agent acquisition of the entire NFL in 2008. He went on to have a monstrous year that led the Falcons to the playoffs. However, that season also doomed Turner in the eyes of many, mainly because NFL pundits and those who consume what NFL pundits have to say believed no back could ever effectively return from the curse of 350 carries. And though, indeed, Turner did get hurt during the next season, he was averaging more yards per carry (4.9) than his fantastic 2008 (4.5).
But that's all history now, and as NFL fans (particularly Falcons fans) are so quick to remind players: What has Turner done for us lately?
Once again, after an exceptional 2010 campaign (1371 yds, 12 TDs, 4.1 yards/carry) - on essentially 1.5 legs, no less - Turner is being criticized in the preseason for looking slow, out of shape, or unwilling to hit the holes. This is a myth that I believe gets conflated with all the...ahem...dislike for Mike Mularkey. Additionally, there are some who seemingly willfully ignore the job of the Oline's responsibilities in the run game. So, let's go to the most recent game against the Steelers and look at all 7 runs of Turner to see what's up.
1st Attempt, 9:35 in the 1st Q: Run off the RG where there is a great hole. Mughelli makes his usual fantastic seal block to spring Turner who blows by a LB and gains 10-11 yards before being brought down with the help of the Safety in great position. It's possible that Turner could have done a little more here, really lowered the boom on his tackler maybe, but this is the preseason and that would be ill-advised.
2nd Attempt, 9:20 in the 1st Q: Run is right up the gut (Every Falcons fan immediately cringes, and a demon gets its horns). The Oline gets little to no push at all, but the real problem is Timmons comes in from the opposite side absolutely untouched. Why? Mike Johnson and Tyson Clabo block the same man, allowing Timmons to rush free. Someone missed their assignment there, and I'm not so sure it wasn't Clabo. Result of the play is no gain, or maybe even a yard lost.
3rd Attempt, 5:33 in the 1st Q: Run to the left side which looks promising. Turner hits the whole immediately, but once again an OLB comes from the opposite side of the field to make the tackle. Who was responsible for that man? Tyson Clabo by my accounts. Turner gets as much as he could for a 4 yard gain.
4th Attempt, 14:03 in the 2nd Q: Run to the Right side is absolutely stuffed. Not only does Turner not get through, but Ovie Mughelli can't find a seam. Turner bounces off his FB and losses 2-3 yards. Again, on replay it seems there's a miscommunication with the Oline. The hole forms initially between the RT and RG, Ovie sets dead aim for it, but before he can get there, Clabo either yanks his man (or is yanked by his man) into the hole breaking up the momentum. There might be critics that question why Turner didn't improv. I don't blame him here; the hole was there initially, and he's following one of the best FBs in the NFL.
5th Attempt, 10:19 in the 2nd Q: Interesting formation where Ovie, Snelling, and MT are all in the backfield. Ovie is sent out to the left, decoying for a fake handoff to Snelling who then goes to set a block for Turner. Steelers had 8 men in the box at snap (formation calls for it), and they do well off the snap. The OLine is blown up, specifically Sam Baker (believe it was 72 on the jersey) who is immediately pushed back, and who's man comes off Baker's block to tackle Turner who gains 2 yards. Not much more really there for him, in my opinion.
6th Attempt, 6:36 in the 2nd Q: MT is the single back in the BIG formation. Play is to the right side, Polomalu was blitzing on the play and makes it through, but Turner gets by him. THe Oline has good push here and Turner hits the hole strong. A missed block on the backside by Baker ends up getting to Turner for the tackle after a good gain of 4-5 yards.
Final Attempt, later in 2nd Q (oops): MT is single back again and the play runs off the LT. The OLine is surgical in their blocking, especially Baker, and Julio comes in to throw a crucial block that springs Turner out wide. Turner is face-to-face with Polomalu who makes the play after a gain of 2-3 yards. Maybe another RB makes a move and gets by Polomalu there, I think it's easier imagined than done. I also think were this a game of significance Turner would have drove right into him rather than trying to jump over him. This was a potential big play, and the only one really where you can put blame on Turner.
To conclude, the OLine struggled with their run-blocking against the Steelers. You know, that team from PIT who has been the #1 Ranked Rush DEF the last couple of years? It happens. Turner maybe could have done more on one or two of his runs, but again, why risk it?
I've got a lot more to say on the topic (and more general observations about the game which I'll express in the continued discussion in the comments, hopefully), but this is already growing larger than expected. All this has been to say, don't panic. Better yet, don't give up on Michael Turner.