In Dom Capers’ two seasons as Green Bay’s defensive coordinator, the Packers have allowed just four running backs to clear the 100-yard plateau, with Cincinnati’s Cedric Benson (Week 2, 2009) the only other to do so as part of a Packers loss. If this season is any indication of how much impact Turner can have on his team’s success, Green Bay doesn’t need to look any further than the Falcons’ 7-0 record when their Pro Bowl running back clears the 100-yard mark.
Turner rushed for 110 yards on 23 carries (4.8 avg.) in the first meeting against the Packers, with his long run, a 26-yard gain down the sideline in the third quarter, setting up a 1-yard touchdown by him on fourth-and-goal that broke a 10-10 tie.
“I think we left a lot of plays on the field,” defensive end Ryan Pickett said. “We had a lot of missed tackles and stuff we normally don’t do. Of course we learned from that and we’re going to be ready to play him this week.”
“He’s a big dude and he’s tough to tackle. When you get your opportunity to tackle him, you have to tackle him. You’ve got to hold him up and let some other people get there, but he’s a tough guy to bring down.”
Breaking tackles is nothing new for the 5-foot-10, 244-pound Turner, evidenced by his No. 4 ranking in the league this season with 23 in the category. His 1,371 rushing yards led the NFC and ranked No. 3 in the NFL, with more than half that yardage (694, No. 4) coming after contact, according to STATS.
“He’s big but he’s not very tall, so he is real low center of gravity,” defensive end Cullen Jenkins said. “It’s hard. You can’t just get an arm tackle on him and get him down because he’ll run right through it. You’ve just got to try to get him stopped. For the D-line, you’ve got to try to get to him to get his momentum stopped before he gets rolling on your secondary.”
Despite his stout frame, Turner is hardly a lumbering runner, with nine runs of 20-plus yards on the season (No. 9). His 100 runs of 10-plus yards since coming to the Falcons as a free agent in 2008 rank No. 3 in the league over that span behind only Tennessee’s Chris Johnson (122) and Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson (116).
“I think he fools you,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. “He has more speed than most people think he does. If you go back to his early years in San Diego, he was an exceptional kickoff returner. Just the way he’s built, his low pad level. He’s probably, what, a 275-pound man from the waist down. Very strong legs, hard to tackle.
“His running style, (offensive coordinator) Mike Mularkey does an excellent job with the run schemes and trying to break down your force in who’s tackling him and how they block the force defender and so forth. It’s an excellent mix of running style and scheme. They do an excellent job.”
In the Week 12 meeting between the teams, Turner did the vast majority of his damage on first down, picking up 90 yards on 14 carries (6.4 avg.). He ranked No. 3 in the league this season in first-down rushing with 844 yards, and that success on early downs contributed to his team’s efficiency on third down this season (No. 3 at 46.7 percent).
Even though the Packers were largely effective in that area against Atlanta (4-of-12), they also know that letting them get into manageable down-and-distance situations on Saturday night will more than likely prove dangerous.
“First and foremost it will be trying to get the run stopped on early downs,” Jenkins said. “You have to try to do that. If not, they have the whole playbook open and they will be able to do whatever. If you can get them stopped early on first and second down and force them into third-and-long, it helps you out a little more. It just comes down to stopping the run.”
Turner hasn’t done it alone with the Falcons starting the same five offensive linemen in every game this season. The unit also features 252-pound Pro Bowl fullback Ovie Mughelli, with the Falcons occasionally utilizing an extra lineman in certain packages.
“They won last time and they were successful doing it,” Pickett said. “You would think they would do something similar, but we’ll be looking forward to that. We’ll be much better this time than we were last time.
“(The extra lineman and Mughelli) is saying we’re going to bring people in and we’re going to run the ball. They are basically telling you what they are going to do, so it’s a challenge to us up front, our front seven, to stop the run.”
With the Packers scheduled to travel to Atlanta this week on Friday afternoon for the Saturday night game, the team’s week of preparation is altered slightly.
Green Bay was back on the practice field on Tuesday, normally a day off for the players during a regular week, after having Monday off. McCarthy said the team won’t be on the practice field quite as much as it would be when it has seven days between games, estimating the on-field time at about 75-80 percent of a customary week.
“It was important to find a happy medium of letting the players get their body back,” McCarthy said. “It’s really a normal Tuesday on their body clock, but also it was important for us to do the installation of normal down-and-distance and third down. We feel we accomplished that today.
“We have a lot of work to do, like you do every week. There is more responsibility when your team is in the playoffs, there are more demands, but more importantly we need to get more rest, we need to watch more film, and we’ve got to make sure our preparation is the best it can possibly be because the obvious is we are on a six-day working period here.”
As the No. 1 seed, the Falcons enjoyed a bye this past weekend, but had to wait for the result of Green Bay’s game against Philadelphia to see who they would play this Saturday. If the Eagles had won, the Falcons would have hosted Seattle. Since the Packers were the No. 6 seed, they had the advantage of knowing they would travel to Atlanta if they won at Philadelphia regardless of what happened in the other NFC Wild Card contest.
“That in itself was a benefit,” McCarthy said. “I have been in circumstances where if you won in the first round you may be playing one of three teams, so that is a lot bigger challenge for your quality-control department and your support staff.
“So with that we were fortunate that we knew we would be playing Atlanta so we were able to start working on Atlanta Thursday night, Friday afternoon after the players left, and a number of coaches were working on Atlanta all the way up until Sunday morning. That has helped us from a preparation standpoint.”
You can count Pickett as one of the players who wasn’t objecting to the shorter work week.
“We could have played another game after the Philly game,” Pickett said. “We’re just jacked up to be playing right now. Saturday can’t come fast enough for us.”
After reviewing the film of Green Bay’s win at Philadelphia, the league credited the Packers with one additional sack while also taking one away.
On Philadelphia’s first series, Walden stopped quarterback Michael Vick for no gain on third-and-1 to force an Eagles punt. The league ruled that it should have been viewed as a passing play, so Walden was credited with a zero-yard sack.
With his career-high three-sack game in Week 17 against the Bears, Walden now has four sacks over the Packers’ past two games.
Defensive end Jarius Wynn was initially credited with a 1-yard sack of Vick in the fourth quarter, but upon further review, the league determined that the play was a quarterback draw with the receivers downfield looking to block without looking for a pass. That play now goes down as a run for a 1-yard loss.
Sunday’s Packers-Eagles game on FOX drew 39.3 million viewers ranking as the most-watched Wild Card game ever and was the most-watched show of the current TV season.
An average of 32.3 million viewers watched NFL games last weekend, the most ever for an NFL Wild Card Weekend and a seven percent increase from last season (29.9 million viewers). The 32.3 million average surpassed the previous Wild Card Weekend record of 30.0 million in 1994. The Wild Card games also accounted for the four most-watched shows on television last week.
Last season’s Wild Card game between the Packers and Cardinals that went into overtime drew 34.4 million viewers.
Even though the game is Saturday and both teams were on the practice field, the Packers and Falcons did not have to put out an official injury report until Wednesday. The report will be done Wednesday-Friday this week.
The only injury update from McCarthy was that rookie linebacker Frank Zombo, who missed the final three regular-season games and last Sunday’s contest at Philadelphia due to a knee injury, will be given “a chance” this week in practice to see if he can return against the Falcons. McCarthy said Wednesday will be a big day for Zombo as far as showing what he can do on the field.
Additional coverage - Jan. 11