I don't expect this to be a popular post. There's a lot of ways to defend Michael Turner, and a lot of ways to call your ol' pal Dave an idiot. I expect you'll exhaust them today.
Underneath the respectable number of 4.3 yards per carry, Michael Turner is having a poor season. He destroyed the weak Cardinals' rush defense, of course, and he lit into the Cleveland Browns for an average of 7.4 yards per carry. That was inflated by two long runs, one of them 55 yards, which still count but tend to skew the numbers. In all other games and excepting a handful of long rushes, he's averaging well under four yards per carry.
The guy who bulled in 27 touchdowns in two seasons has one this year, and he just can't seem to get going. The answer isn't more carries, because he's had plenty of those. A total of 108 in six games puts him on pace to go well over 300 again in 2010.
Take a look at Jason Snelling. In basically half the carries Turner's gotten, Snelling is averaging 4.7 yards per carry. To be fair, his season long is 30, and he's unlikely to break the huge runs that Turner sometimes gets because he's so unstoppable with momentum. But it's clear that Snelling is doing more with less, and he's a more capable receiver out of the backfield.
All of which leads me to my potentially unpopular point: Turner should get less carries than Snelling. This should start immediately.
I think the Falcons are a forward-thinking football team. I want to get that out of the way now, so the series of punches I'm about to land will feel a little softer.
To me, this situation is beginning to feel like a classic problem of the Two Moes: Money and Momentum. Because Turner is the team's highly-paid back, the Falcons seem to feel obligated to some extent to ride him even when he's struggling. There's also the idea that a back like Turner needs more carries to get into a rhythm (aka momentum), but we're just not seeing the proof of that in 2010. With the exception of the Browns game, every time Turner has gotten 15 or more carries, he's averaged under four yards.
I'd like to think the coaching staff has a better reason for trotting Turner out there game after game, but I've yet to hear it. The Falcons rely heavily on the ground game to open up things through the air for them, and thus far they can only watch in horror as Turner butts up against linemen over and over again. You have to blame the offensive line and Mike Mularkey for this, to some extent, but it doesn't explain why Snelling has been so much more effective.
In my mind, it's about Snelling's versatility. For all his battering ram gusto and howitzer-sized legs, Turner basically runs forward. When he's good—like 2008—he's picking up a lot of yardage doing nothing more than that. When he's not so good—like now—his struggles are glaring. Snelling is able to make something happen with a pass in the flats and he's a nice little burst of speed that serves to punch him past the line, especially when he's asked to go outside.
I'm not saying Turner can never be effective again. He still needs to get carries and supplement Snelling. But I do believe that until the team figures out why he's not effective, they need to give Big Snell the majority of carries, money and momentum be damned.
There's not much point in using a guy like a workhorse back when he isn't playing like one.