As an Atlanta Falcon, Michael Turner has never known anything other than being the lead back in the offense. His three seasons of more than 300 carries in his four years with the Falcons can attest to that. The only season he didn't gain more than 1,2000 yards or get 300 or more carries was in 2009 when an injury caused him to miss five games.
This season, things are a little different and Turner will add 2012 to the list of seasons where he hasn't achieved the benchmarks that he's made a regular occurrence. With a stronger emphasis on the passing game this year from the offense, Turner and his running have taken a back seat to the pass. Add to that the regular use of second-year back Jacquizz Rodgers and it's no surprise why Turner is on pace for 230 carries this year.
During the offseason head coach Mike Smith said one of the team's goals this year was to reduce the number of carries Turner received and they've been successful at that. While Turner hasn't had some of the big gains he's had in the past, he's had some key runs situationally throughout the season to help the Falcons put away teams. He's also been an excellent goal line back with nine TDs this year.
The health of Turner was also a factor, allowing him to be fresher later into the season and the running back said on Wednesday that he feels like that's been accomplished.
"I'm fresher now than I've ever been before at this point in the season," Turner said. "I feel good."
When Turner joined the Falcons in 2008, he had spent four seasons as a backup in San Diego, averaging 57 carries a season. With the Falcons he's averaged 337 carries during the three previous seasons when he's played in every game.
With a healthy and fresh Turner in the backfield, the Falcons enter the playoffs with a bruising back capable of carrying a heavier load if the situation calls for it. The Falcons may not have run the ball as much as they have in the past, but they know the ground game can be there for them if an opponent tries to completely shut down their passing attack.
"We've run the ball effectively in certain games when we've needed to," Matt Ryan said. "I think we've been defended differently throughout the season and we've found ways to win. That's probably the thing I think we've done best of anything: taking what they give us and doing the best we can with what we have each week."