It’s time to look at the Falcons bruising tailback, Michael “The Burner” Turner…
Pros: Shows excellent power and enjoys running over and through defenders. Does a great job after initial contact when he can square his shoulders and runs behind his pads very well. It’s going to be extremely difficult to bring him down for a single defender. Runs with good balance and low to the ground which makes his power and bulk very compact and even more effective. Very dangerous on the second level, and possesses a solid second gear that allows him to break long runs when he gets there. Generally does a very good job with ball security. Because his running style wears on a defense, he gets better as the game progresses and eventually he’ll break a big one when he gets enough touches. Does a nice job in pass protection, throwing his weight around and rarely misses an assignment.
Cons: Not very sudden and doesn’t do well when you force him to move laterally. Needs room to build up steam and square his shoulders, meaning that a disruptive defense that can hit him in the backfield before he gets to the line of scrimmage will be most effective against him. Has inconsistent hands and not too reliable there. Because of his lack of the quick first step, not as effective in the flat as a receiver if a defender can hit him before he can square his shoulders and get downhill. Conditioning has been questioned from time to time, and his burst and second gear has diminished since joining the team.
2011 Outlook: Turner has served as the centerpiece of the Falcons offense for the past three years, and it’s going to be interesting to see if in 2011 that remains the case. The addition of Julio Jones and the continued maturation of Matt Ryan could force his role to diminish somewhat.
But he’s not going to be an afterthought, not if Mike Mularkey and Mike Smith have anything to say about it. Turner’s abilities play very well into the style of team that Smitty wants, which is a physical team that can pound the rock, control the clock and make the defense more effective.
The Falcons will still rely heavily on getting Turner going early in games. The difference however from 2010 to 2011 may be that if Turner gets off to a slow start like he is prone to do against good defenses, the team may be quicker and more willing to abandon the run and put the ball firmly in Matt Ryan’s hands.
Turner is 29, which is old for a running back in the NFL. He showed some signs of decline last year, mainly with his ability to break the long run. The homerun potential of Turner is diminished, but it still won’t limit how effective a runner he can be. The Falcons will still strive to give him 20+ touches per game. The team sports a 21-2 record in games where Turner cracks 20 carries, and 10-10 when he does not.
In Summary… Comparing Turner’s running style to that of a freight train works really well. The train takes some time to build up steam and get going, but once it does it’s very hard to stop. When the Falcons can get that train rolling, their offense becomes very hard to stop. He’s probably not going to be a dominant runner in 2011, but he will provide balance for the Falcons offense and be productive most weeks.