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The Great Debate: Could The Running Game Run Us Out Of The Playoffs?

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In this series of posts, I seek to find the answer to questions that are brought up around here or around the various sports conversation sites. I use a realistic, low-stat opinion to generate discussion about these topics, but I also encourage the use of stats in an argument.

Let me first start by saying that I love Michael Turner. I love his punishing running style, and I love how he defies physics by running faster than someone of his size should run. I've got nothing but respect for the man.

For now, my love does not go much farther than that. He picks up blitzers in passing situations well enough, but I'm not concerned with his blitz pickup.

I traveled 20 miles to a sports bar on Monday night to watch the ball game, and while I wasn't thrilled with the outcome, I was more concerned about what I saw from the running game. It was something that bothered me quite a bit, and something that I've been yelling about for a little while now.

"What is it?", you ask? Well...I think that our offense will falter without a shifty tailback. Want to know why?

Follow me after the jump and I'll break it down!

"Don't worry, they're magic here. They left them with too much time." I said to my dad loud enough for the four Saints fans in front of me to hear. That was right after they had taken the lead in the fourth quarter.

As you all know, the team let us down. There was a bit of heartbreak in there. I try to be optimistic, though I still have a bit of a pessimistic side. I almost felt like our offense had been exposed a little, but we had done more against a better defense (Ravens), so I couldn't understand what was going on. So I began to think back on the game and what could have gone wrong.

As the game progressed, I noticed a disturbing trend: Turner was getting tackled in the backfield.

But that's not what really bothered me. What really bothered me was that the holes were there on almost every play he was getting hit in the backfield, but I don't think they were necessarily the holes the play was designed to make. One play in particular, there was a hole one gap to Turner's right, but he lowered his head and ran into the backs of his O-line.

I may have said something aloud, something like, "A scat back would have taken that one 20 yards." because there was NOOOOBODY in the second level of that hole, but Turner failed to notice it and chugged ahead anyway.

That style of running is going to cost us. Yes, Turner had a couple decent runs, but we can't be doing 2nd and 8, 3rd and 7, etc. all game long.

I feel this stage of the game, a running back who specializes in lateral movement would be why we win a Super Bowl. I'm not sure we can win it with a running game that may or may not show up and that relies on the hole to be there every time.

You can fault Mike Mularkey, you can fault the OL, but let me tell you this: If Turner, a tackle-breaking, "if I get a head of steam because I found the hole, watch out" style of runner can run for 1200+ yards in our system, just imagine what someone like Ray Rice, Steven Jackson, or LeSean McCoy could do. They'd break 2000 scrimmage yards, easily!

There's probably not a stat for this...actually, we would have to know the exact play call and desired gap to know for sure, but I bet Turner is hitting the desired gap....I dunno, 90% of the time. The problem is, the desired gap may only produce a hole 50% of the time, with a "second chance" hole coming 30% of the time. These numbers are all fictional. I have no idea what the actual numbers would be.

You look at runners like Turner and compare them to runners like Warrick Dunn. How was Dunn able to run for 1200 yards just like Turner? They are totally different backs. Warrick Dunn specialized in finding the "second chance" hole when the initial gap closed by being a very shifty runner. He wasn't a good tackle breaker in the Turner sense, but he made up for it by finding the second chance holes and gaining positive yardage from those instead of nothing like a Turner.

The beauty of a shifty runner is that not only will they hit the desired hole every time, but they'll also see the second chance holes and hit them a lot of the time. I don't think Turner is seeing these second holes, or if he is, he's not attempting to run through them.

This is why the two back system is so important in today's game. Even if it's only to spell the #1 back for a little while, a second back must be used for some kind of change of pace. Our running game has been nothing but Turner as of late. Turnelling has all but disappeared, and it's starting to show.

I believe I alluded to this in one of my earlier debate posts, but teams have figured out how to stop Turner. Plug the initial hole and he's done. Every single time this happens, we gain one yard....or less.

When our running game works, it works well. However, those stat padding runs that Turner had on Monday really masked the major problem of how poor the running game was performing.

I saw several occurrances where an alert back with some vision would have at least cut into the hole for positive yards (even if  it was one or two yards, it was more than Turner gained on the play). One play in particular was what I believe is called a "Zone Read", where everyone goes in a certain direction and the RB waits for the hole to open up. If I remember correctly, they ran one of those plays to the left. Gonzo was the left TE and was blocking out on a defensive back, I believe. He was manhandling the poor fellow and pushing him backwards. I believe Peelle went in motion from right to left and blocked the first LB he came across, and Baker sealed the end.

The hole was there, but Turner was not. He either hesitated or felt like he could gain more yards by running farther outside, though by the time he tried to run north, he was out of bounds. I do recall saying something aloud after that one.

Yes, our current usage of the running game is a problem. We have a fantastic quarterback who played a little out of his natural rhythm last night, but we were still in a position to win the game.

However, the games will soon into win-or-get-out games, and we need the running game to be firing on all cylinders if we want to have a chance at the Lombardi.

I do think that Snelling could be our version of McCoy/SJax, even if he is more of a punisher. Snelling's hands are really, really good, but he's so underused it makes me wonder if we're either saving him for something or if he has some kind of problem we aren't aware of to this point. That remains to be seen, but I would like for GJ3 to get a few looks against the Panthers this week. Here's to an easy win and a No. 1 seed!

What do you all think? I don't think I'm alone in saying that something is wrong with the running game, but what do you all think the problem might be? Do you think it's something that is fixable now? Or are we screwed until the draft and free agency next year? Could the extra pressure on Matt Ryan (little playoff experience) due to lack of a running game be our downfall? I look forward to discussing this with you all!