More ability calling plays from a singleback set with help Michael Turner in 2012. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
A look at the Falcons running game in 2011, where they were better with just Turner on the field vs. multiple backs
As the NFL moves more and more towards a passing league, we tend to see traditional roles phased out in favor of players who fit the new model. It's rather rare to see a true 'do everything' tight end, for example, as more teams elect to draft, and select players who are elite receivers first, and worry about the blocking second.
So too has the traditional role of fullback out of the I-formation given was to the decision by many teams to carry a speedy 'scat back' rather than the traditional, bruising lead blocker we've seen over the last four decades of football. Obviously the Falcons aren't ready to ditch the fullback concept all together, especially after drafting Brady Ewing-- however, there is some credence to the idea the running attack is better when the threat of the pass sets up the run.
The folks over at Football Outsiders took a look at the role of singleback vs. fullback sets as a way to measure a team's effectiveness running the ball. When it comes to the Falcons they fell in step with most of the league-- they were better with just one RB.
Atlanta bucked the trend in one area-- frequency of use. While the rest of the league averaged a singleback set 53% of the time, the Falcons leaned more towards multiple backs, using two or more RBs on 54% of downs. However, they had much less success running the ball out of these formations with the Falcons averaging -5.1% effectiveness with just Turner, compared to a -17.1% effectiveness with mutiple backs.
Almost every team in the NFL had more success with just one RB, but Atlanta had a disparate -12% difference, whereas the rest of the league averaged under 6% difference; but this was Mike Mularkey's offense, one where he never really used the running game to it's full advantage-- so how did Dirk Koetter do in Jacksonville?
Like Mularkey, Koetter also preferred to use more than one RB, however he was more effective at the -11.7% rating with multiple backs, and a huge leap to a +7.5% with just one RB. It's clear he knew how to use Maurice Jones-Drew out of formations that looked like passing downs, and with Michael Turner in the same mold it's likely we'll see a great deal of success for Turner in 2012.