Atlanta running back Michael Turner (33) runs for a touchdown in the third quarter of an NFL football game against the Carolina Panthers Sunday, Jan. 2, 2011 in Atlanta. / John Bazemore/AP
Only three running backs in the NFL broke more tackles in the regular season than Atlanta’s Michael Turner.
It seemed like most of Turner’s came against the Green Bay Packers.
In the regular-season meeting in Week 12 at the Georgia Dome, Packers’ defenders bounced off Turner, who rushed for 110 yards on 23 carries in the Falcons’ 20-17 victory. On two of Turner’s longest runs, the Packers combined to miss three tackles. For the season, Turner broke 23 tackles on rushing plays, according to STATS, an independent sports data and statistical service. Only Tampa Bay’s LeGarrette Blount (29 broken tackles), Washington’s Ryan Torain (24) and Ahmad Bradshaw (24) of the New York Giants shed more tackles on running plays than Turner.
It didn’t take a film session to remind those on the Packers’ defensive side of the ball what the 5-foot-10, 244-pound Turner did to them in that Nov. 28 game. It was burned in the memory of defensive end Cullen Jenkins, who had just one assisted tackle against the Falcons.
“He’s so stocky, seems like he’s about 5-5, 250,” Jenkins said Tuesday. “He’s got a low center of gravity, big legs and stuff. So he’s not as easy to take down as most backs.”
Perhaps surprisingly, Turner doesn’t rate exceptionally high on STATS’ list of yards after contact per attempt. Turner was only 2.1 in that category. That was tied for the eighth-best average among the 17 backs that rushed for more than 1,000 yards this season. Blount (6-0, 247) was tops in that area at 3.3.
Still, 50.6 percent of Turner’s 1,371 rushing yards, which ranked third in the league, came after contact. By comparison, NFL rushing leader Arian Foster of Houston gained 43.6 percent of his 1,616 yards after contact and had 14 broken tackles. Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles, who was second in the league in rushing with 1,467 yards, got just 38.5 percent of his yards after contact and had 11 broken tackles.
“Michael is a very compact runner, and I really believe when he comes through the hole, defenders, the only thing they see are shoulder pads and shins,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said Tuesday during a conference call. “There’s not a whole lot to hit there, and I think he does a very good job of running behind his pads. When we were looking to sign Michael three years ago, that was the thing that stood out, his ability to break tackles.”
Perhaps the play that broke the Packers’ back was Turner’s 26-yard run late in the third quarter. Linebacker A.J. Hawk and safety Nick Collins both bounced off Turner as he ran to the Packers’ 2-yard line. The run set up a touchdown — a 1-yard run by Turner on fourth-and-goal — that gave the Falcons a 17-10 lead with 14:24 remaining.
Of the Packers’ top four tacklers that day, three were defensive backs.
“It would help for the D-line to get him stopped before he gets rumbling back in the secondary,” Jenkins said. “But you know when you get on him, you’ve got to really make sure that you stay in front of him and get good position and not just reach out and try to arm tackle him.”
Turner wasn’t the only player to shed tackles in that game. Earlier on the drive in which Turner had his 26-yard run, linebacker Frank Zombo missed a tackle on backup running back Jason Snelling on a third-and-9 play in which Snelling took a short pass and gained 10 yards. A stop on that play would have forced a three-and-out.
Earlier, cornerback Charles Woodson and safety Charlie Peprah both missed tackles on fullback Ovie Mughelli’s 16-yard catch and run on a dump-off pass on third-and-19 in the second quarter. That allowed Smith to go for it on fourth-and-3, which the Falcons converted. They finished that drive with a 4-yard touchdown catch by tight end Tony Gonzalez that gave the Falcons a 10-3 halftime lead.
“It was clearly one of our worst (tackling performances), no doubt about it,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “Fundamentally, that was not our best game. There was the one giveaway in the game. We did not take the football away, and we didn’t tackle very well. They ran the ball extremely well with their big people on the field. That’s something we need to do a better job of.”