As we covered in our last comparison concerning the DE position with Osi Umenyiora taking over for John Abraham, we will now look at the transition concerning the starting running back for the Falcons.
During the first year of Matt Ryan's career, the Falcons leaned heavily on the imposing Michael Turner. This was important so that the Falcons could help Ryan learn the offense by taking the pressure off of him and placing it directly on Turner. Turner recorded 1,699 yards rushing, averaging 4.5 yards per carry and scoring 17 touchdowns. He also had a career high in carries with 376.
Over the years, Turner's stats declined a bit, and he got less and less carries as the offense began to steadily flow through Matt Ryan at a more consistent clip.
Last year was a real low point in Turner's career, putting up his worst numbers as a starter. He managed a career low 800 yards rushing and 3.6 yards per carry.
A combination of poor fullback play, a pass happy offense, poor blocking from the O-line during running plays and an aging Michael Turner led to a running game that was 29th in the league in rushing in terms of yards per game.
The Falcons decided to go in a different direction with their running game, and acquired free agent Steven Jackson.
Last season, Jackson recorded his eighth consecutive 1000 yard season playing behind an offensive line that did a poor job opening up any holes for him on a consistent basis.
Jackson had 1,042 yards rushing at 4.1 yards per carry, but with only four rushing touchdowns on 257 carries.
Jackson has only recorded double digits rushing touchdowns once in his career and that was in 2006 when he had 13. This isn't too concerning though considering how strong the Falcons passing game is. Touchdowns will not come as much from the running game this year, and not too many of them came by the run last year.
What was most glaring about the Falcons running game last season was the results when running the ball in short yardage situations. Whether it be on the goal line, or in third or fourth and short, it seemed that the Falcons were consistently stuffed in these scenarios. Jackson's biggest role will be to alleviate these short yardage failures by consistently moving the chains when the first down marker is only a few yards- or a few inches away.
Jackson seems to be an upgrade over Turner not only in the rushing attack, but also giving Matt Ryan an additional weapon to throw the ball to.
In 2012 Jackson had 38 receptions for 321 yards, averaging 8.4 yards per catch. These are very good numbers for a running back, and blow Turner's reception numbers out of the water.
Turner only had 19 receptions last year for 128 yards and averaged 6.7 yards per catch.
Jackson clearly had a better season last year with an inferior supporting cast, so there is no reason to think that Jackson can't have a better season this year than he did last year with the mediocre St. Louis Rams.
As mentioned, his ability to be a receiver adds even more depth to the Falcons passing attack. Giving Matt Ryan another elite weapon to complement Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez could make the Falcons the NFL's best passing offense this year.
Jackson has remained consistent over the last three years too, with no stat declining sharply.
|2010: 324 Rushing Attempts, 1,241 yards, 3.8 yards per carry, 6 TD|
|2011: 260 Rushing Attempts, 1,145 yards, 4.4 yards per carry, 5 TD|
|2012: 257 Rushing Attempts, 1,042 yards, 4.1 yards per carry, 4 TD|
With less carries, comes less yards. This is to be expected as Jackson gets older so that he can remain healthy. Over the last three seasons, he averaged 4.1 yards per carry, and 1,142 yards per season.
Stats aside, what Jackson brings to the table more than Turner (last season) is a threat. Defenses will no longer be able to sit on the pass simply due to his presence. This make the Falcons passing attack all the more dangerous. He's still an effective running back that has the ability to make plays independent of the struggles from the O-Line or fullback position.
Look for Jackson to expand the Falcons offense beyond being able to run the ball effectively, and beyond the stat sheet.
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