When word came out that the Atlanta Falcons were releasing Michael Turner and conversely, the Rams were moving away from Steven Jackson, I think most football fans knew this was a perfect match like white on rice.
But is it really?
Michael Turner had a woeful season. If you watched the Falcons, you would have known that they have been one of the worst short yardage teams in the league. How many times did Mike Smith go for it on 3rd or 4th and short only to turn the ball over on downs. Not only did they get very little push on their offensive line, but Turner looked like a plodding, old running back who had zero bounce to the outside. Oh, let’s not forget he was 30. Yes 30 years old, the dreaded number for running backs. That age where their production just dips to the production of a backup. The Falcons have replaced one 30 yeard old back with one that will turn 30 before the season starts in Steven Jackson. While on paper it looks like a solid move, I am skeptical. Let’s look at how running backs fared when they hit the other side of 30.
A few interesting points are that certain backs at the age of 30 actually had more TD’s. This could be attributed to the fact that these Pro Bowlers, are a year older and have too much mileage to be full time backs, but enough talent to get some looks at the goal line. But the prevaling trend is that the guys at 30 have less yards per carry, less touches and conversely less games with injuries that kick in.
Steven Jackson turns 30 in July. He has always been one of the more durable, hard-nosed backs in the NFL and has performed well despite an offensive line that has been influx since he has been in the league. Jackson has only missed 2 games in the past 4 seasons as well which may be attributed to the Rams reducing his work load in 2011 and 2012 with 260 and 257 carries over that time span (Over the two seasons prior he had over 323 carries). Last season, we saw Daryl Richardson play a big role in keeping Jackson fresh. Let’s put this out there now; Jackson has always been a better back than Turner. He has a great combination of size and speed and is relentless inside the tackles. I don’t take much credence in his average touchdown and yards per carry numbers considering he has never played with a legit passing threat. With all that said, the curse of the 30 year old running back has hit many players completely out of nowhere despite the fact that at 29, they performed to their mean performances. In a day and age where teams are moving away from the big back as a short yardage and goaline option and using quicker backs due to their ability to make faster cuts and reads against the 8 man front, one has to wonder if this is truly the way for the Falcons to go: Replacing one aging runner with another one. Only time will tell, or may already have based on past precedence. The Falcons will need to make changes on their offensive line to ensure a stronger run blocking scheme, or Mike Smith will have the same short yardage problems that he has had since being head coach of the Falcons.