While our optimism has flickered slightly in the face of a raging hurricane of difficult scheduling (?), the Atlanta Falcons are still a good football team. The next big test comes in the form of the the San Fransisco 49ers, the most numerically named team in the NFL, who just so happen to have a strong defensive front seven.
That's relevant because I don't think there's anyone here who is really all that thrilled with how the ground game has performed this season. Michael Turner was dynamic last year and the single biggest piece of our offensive success, but he's been just about average thus far in 2009. It's a bit of a puzzling and worrying problem, so it's a relief that our coaching staff made it a priority during the bye week.
Interestingly, Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter D. Orlando Ledbetter writes that most of the focus was on the offensive line's performance through the first three games of the season, suggesting that Turner is not the cause of the problem at all. That suggestion isn't even raised in the article, frankly. Todd McClure sees ways the team can improve:
"We just have to concentrate on the little things," McClure said. "Whether if it's footwork or hand placement or helmet placement once you get up to the second level."
If the entire line starts stepping an inch further to the left and opening up holes so big a herd of Michael Turners can run through them, I'm going to be the last person to ridicule that statement. If making some small changes can get us going against one of the tougher run defenses in the league, that would go a long way toward opening things up against a more average Niners secondary for Matt Ryan, Tony Gonzalez and Roddy White.
Somehow, though, I think we can't lay this entirely on the feet of the offensive line. Having Jerious Norwood back to switch up the pace could be critical, and it's probably time for the coaching staff to live up to their promise of getting him prominently involved. Turner has looked just a step slow getting to the hole, and while having more room to run would help out with that, he's got to clear of the line of scrimmage a little faster. His more bruising style is well-accompanied by the threat of Norwood, and it's fair to ask if he's missed having him around. My hunch is yes.
What are your thoughts on the running game, and how will it fare against the Niners?