The Saints’ success this weekend will largely depend on how much they are able to stop Michael Turner. The Falcons do one thing really well and that’s run the football. Everything else is middle of the road. They are 15th in points scored, 14th in offense, 17th passing, 12th in scoring defense, 14th in defense overall, 19th against the pass, and 7th against the run. I’m not saying the Falcons are bad in any one area because they’re not, they’re just average to pretty good at most things. While they’re not amazing in one area, you can definitely call them extremely well balanced. The run defense has been a bright spot, but the pass defense can be exposed especially when you consider it’s the biggest strength of the Saints’ team. Problem is, if Michael Turner gashes the Saints for chunks of yards at a time, it will limit the amount of minutes the Saints’ offense spends on the field.
Let’s consider how Turner has done in the past against the Saints since he joined the Falcons in 2008:
|Year||Home Team||Result||Michael Turner Carries||Michael Turner Yards||Michael Turner YPC||Michael Turner TD’s|
|2008||Atlanta||Falcons wins 34-20||27 carries||96 yards||3.6 yds per carry||1 TD|
|2008||New Orleans||Saints win 29-25||18 carries||61 yards||3.4 yds per carry||1 TD|
|2009||New Orleans||Saints win 35-27||20 carries||151 yards||7.6 yds per carry||1 TD|
|2009||Atlanta||Saints win 26-23||DID NOT PLAY||DNP||DNP||DNP|
|2010||New Orleans||Falcons win 27-24||30 carries||114 yards||3.8 yards per carry||1 TD|
|2010||Atlanta||Saints win 17-14||17 carries||48 yards||2.8 yards per carry||0 TDs|
Since Michael Turner has been a feature back and member of the Falcons in 2008, he has averaged rushing for 90.8 yards per game at an average of 4.43 yards per carry. Against the Saints during that span, he’s averaged 94 yards per game at an average of 4.20 per carry. So he’s gotten a little bit more yardage than he does against other teams for a little bit less yards per carry. That means the Falcons are making a concerted effort to pound the ball against the Saints, but the Saints are doing an ok job at stopping it (at least better than the average). In the Saints’ 4 wins during this 6 game span, Michael Turner didn’t play once, and two times he was held to 61 and 48 yards respectively. Turner did have a 151 yard output in one of those Saints’ wins, but the Saints offense also scored their highest total during this span at 35 points. Even with that 151 yard performance, Turner averages less than 87 yards per game when the Saints win. That’s not including the win the Saints had when Turner didn’t play. If you average that in, then he averages 65 per game in four losses to the Saints. In the 2 wins against the Saints, Michael Turner averages 105 yards per game. So while that doesn’t paint the entire picture, it seems pretty clear: slow down Michael Turner and you heavily increase your odds of winning. Especially when you consider how committed the Falcons are to giving him the ball against the Saints and that Matt Ryan has struggled this year.
Undoubtedly, the focus for the Saints’ defense this week is slowing down the Falcons’ running game. Unfortunately, this means leaving your cornerbacks out on an island and you often leave 8 men in the box. The fear there is with Patrick Robinson and Tracy Porter both currently dealing with ailments, will the Saints be able to cover very capable receivers in single man coverage? We shall see, but I believe the healthy return of either or both of those corners this week would be a huge boost.
Lastly, I also want to make the unrelated comment that Drew Brees’ protection of the football is imperative this week. The Falcons will give up yards on the back end for sure, but they are also playmakers back there. They have 10 interceptions through 8 games (the Saints have 4 through 9 games!), so while they give up some plays they also make them. Thomas Decoud and Brent Grimes tend to be the prime suspects. Brees seems to have been prone to a bad mistake or two a game lately and the Falcons are the type of backfield that could make him pay for it. This would be a good time for Brees to take extra special care of the football because if he gives it away, considering how the Falcons run their offense, it may be a while before he sees it again.