Falcons running back Jason Snelling gains 186 yards and scores three touchdowns in relief of Devonta Freeman during Atlanta's 41-7 win over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday
ATLANTA —Last season when injuries depleted the Falcons' stable of running backs, Jason Snelling stepped up and carried the load.
During Sunday's home-opening 41-7 win over the Arizona Cardinals, Snelling found himself in that situation again.
After running back Jerious Norwood left the game following the opening kickoff return with an injured knee and starter Michael Turner's groin injury kept him out of the game after the first half, Snelling was the only back the Falcons had to employ.
Just as he did last season, he delivered.
Snelling doesn't believe a backup should prepare any differently than a starter, and on Sunday, he put his beliefs into action. As the featured ground weapon, the fourth-year back turned in a 24-carry, 129-yard, two-touchdown effort on the ground. He added five receptions for 57 yards and a touchdown in the passing game as well.
"You've got to be a person of opportunity," Snelling said. "When you get your chance to make plays, you've got to do it. Plus when a guy goes down, the offense doesn't expect a letdown. They're counting on you to come in there and perform and that's what I was able to do today."
When he began his day, he didn't know he'd end it with 29 touches, but he was prepared for it. With Norwood out, Snelling became an even bigger part of the offense, catching a Matt Ryan pass halfway through the second quarter for a 19-yard touchdown.
Once Turner was unable to return, the 2007 seventh-round draft pick knew it would be up to him.
"As the game was going I knew I was going to be the guy," he said. "I was prepared for it. I kept on trucking and we were able to do some good things running the ball today."
With injuries threatening his game plan, Atlanta head coach Mike Smith was thankful he could call on No. 44.
"I mean what can you say about this guy," Smith said following the game. "He had over 180, I think 180 yards, total yards ... 182 yards and three touchdowns. Just says a lot about the depth of this team that our personnel staff has put together over three years. He's just a darned good football player. Not only running the football, but catching the football."
Atlanta's offensive line stonewalled the front of the Cardinals' 3-4 defense, giving Snelling just enough room to maneuver. Downfield, once Snelling found daylight, the Falcons' wide receivers did the rest. He admitted in the NFL backs have to work with what they're given. He was thankful for what he got from his big five up front on Sunday.
"In the NFL, holes are not too big," Snelling said. "At the line of scrimmage, they were pushing guys back and there were creases. When you get a crease from the lineman the running back has to do the rest."
Blocking in the run game made a significant difference for the Falcons in Week 2. Last week's loss to the Steelers saw the Falcons run for 58 yards and they knew they'd have to do some things differently to avoid starting out 0-2.
"(We worked on) sustainability, holding onto our blocks a little longer, and just executing the way we know how," Snelling said. "I think last week we kind of got a little letdown with our technique. This week the line stepped it up and they were blocking down field, pushing the line back, and that's what a running back loves to see."
With Sunday's win, the Falcons evened up their record, but more importantly showed last weeks' nine-point effort wasn't all they're capable of. Sunday's 267-yard offensive outburst showed what can happen at the hands of the Falcons.
"We definitely made a statement," Snelling said of the team's offense. "Going back to the little things like holding onto blocks, blocking down field, protecting our quarterback. We put all that together. That felt good, putting everything together. As you see when we do that, we can be an explosive offense."