The Most Compelling Reason To Manage Michael Turner's Carries

ATLANTA - NOVEMBER 07: Quarterback Matt Ryan #2 of the Atlanta Falcons celebrates with Michael Turner #33 after Turner's touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Georgia Dome on November 7 2010 in Atlanta Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Dirk Koetter let something slip yesterday that I thought was worth discussing further, even though the topic has become awfully familiar to readers of The Falcoholic.

The topic, of course, is limiting Michael Turner's carries. This has come up again and again since 2009, always ending with no reduction in carries, a few bitter disagreements among fans and Turner himself throwing Eric Weems around like an English major tosses out metaphors.

Here's what Koetter said, which I think illuminates the reasoning here:

We need to keep Mike healthy so that he’s as good at the end of the season as he is in the front of the season. The way this roster has been built, we have some other backs that are very capable. We have good competition in the backfield. I like our backfield situation. Mike Turner is at the head of the class. But, you know, we’re going to need all of those guys.

These concerns are not unfounded. While Turner averaged 4.75 yards per carry in his first 10 games last season, that average dropped to 4.45 in the last six games. That doesn't sound like a ton, but keep in mind that his truly awesome game against Tampa Bay at the end of the year skews those numbers. In the five weeks before that, he never averaged more than 3.6 yards per carry.

That's something we've seen throughout the Burner's last few seasons. In 2010, he averaged 4.7 yards per carry in his first eight games, while averaging just 3.7 in his last eight. In 2009, he missed six of the last eight games with an injury and logged only 13 carries in the two games he played.

Some of the brighter minds on this site and I have clashed, repeatedly, over whether Turner's late-season wear-down is due to his tired wheels or an unfortunate combination of poor play-calling, bad line play and the vagaries of a given game, and I don't intend to use my bully pulpit to say they're wrong. The truth lies somewhere in the middle. I think we can all agree that Turner should fare better with an improved line and a new coordinator. But he may well have to do so with less carries.

It should be noted that Turner has had anemic games earlier in the 2011 and 2010 seasons, as well, so clearly health and his personal fuel gauge are far from the only factors. As mentioned above, the offensive gameplan and the line had a lot to do with those issues. But it's not a terrible idea by any stretch of the imagination to do whatever it takes to keep Turner healthy and rushing like a champ late into the season. After all, he averaged just 2.7 and 3.9 yards per tote in the Falcons' last two playoff games.

For the 723rd time, what do you think of limiting the big guy's carries?

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