The Atlanta Falcons are built to run the ball, but running back Michael Turner has some times found the going rough early, leading to increased pressure on the passing game.
Flying Falcons want to hit the ground running
Michael Turner said the best way to make sure he returns to the 100-yards per game form he showed in the first two weeks of the season is for the Atlanta Falcons to have a better start on Sunday at Seattle.
The running back had only nine yards rushing in the first half of last week's 16-13 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the Falcons, who usually stress their running game, all but gave up on him in the second half, when they trailed 13-3 at half time and leaned more heavily on the arm of Matt Ryan, the quarterback, and the passing game.
Turner had only four carries for 11 yards in the second half to finish with 20 yards rushing, his low total since December 2009 against the New York Jets, when he was limited by an injury and had one carry for seven yards. "It just turns out that way sometimes in a game," Turner said.
"Playing from behind, the fastest way to come back is by throwing the football.
"Hopefully this week we get ahead and don't have to be one dimensional."
Turner is coming off a 2010 Pro Bowl season in which he had 1,371 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns. He had a strong start to the 2011 season with 100 yards in the Falcons' opening loss to the Chicago Bears, and followed that with 114 yards and a touchdown in a win over the Philadelphia Eagles.
Atlanta have emphasised running the ball and stopping the run in four seasons under Mike Smith, the coach, during which time the Falcons have been almost unbeatable, posting an 18-3 record, when Turner has rushed for at least 100 yards.
"We probably didn't run effectively enough in the first half to keep going with it and so we went to the pass game and I thought Matt did a fairly good job of distributing the ball," Smith said.
The Falcons made Julio Jones, the wide receiver, the No 6 overall pick in this year's NFL draft. Jones has joined Roddy White, the Pro Bowl receiver, and Tony Gonzalez, the tight end, to make the Falcons' passing game more dangerous.
"I wouldn't say we have more emphasis on the pass," Ovie Mughelli, the fullback, said.
"I would just say when we do pass we have more weapons. Smith knows to open up that pass game, you've got to get that run game started.
"We think we have weapons out there on either side, run or pass. We want to be able to use both, especially the run game, with Michael Turner, whenever we can."
Ryan passed for 300 or more yards in only one game as the Falcons went 13-3 in 2010.
He already has two 300-yard games this year - both in losses - while spending more time in no-huddle formations.
Smith said the numbers are not proof of a dramatic change in the team's offensive philosophy.
Decisions to run or pass from the no-huddle formation are based on "how people are defending you. Most of the looks we got were looks for us to throw the football, and that's why we were throwing the football more in the second half," Smith said.
Turner said he was not worried about losing carries in the no-huddle plays. "It's just the looks that the defences have given us and Matt has done a great job of getting us into some great plays for us to be successful," he said.
More passes also mean more opportunities for opposing defences to hit Ryan, who has been sacked 13 times. Tampa Bay had four sacks.
Turner said the Falcons' offence has not found its identity.
"No, we definitely have to tune some things up, obviously," he said.
"We're just going to keep focusing and keep trying to gel as a unit and move on."