FLOWERY BRANCH — Mike Smith says he's looking to find more help for Michael Turner in the Falcons' running game.
The plan worked last week, when it was easy to rest Turner in Atlanta's lopsided 31-7 win at Indianapolis. Turner had less than half of Atlanta's 41 carries.
By comparison, Turner had all but one of the carries given to running backs in the Falcons' previous game, a win over Detroit.
Smith's new plan to spread out the carries will be tested in this week's important game against New Orleans with first place in the NFC South on the line.
Turner said Wednesday he'd like a heavy load of carries.
Smith said the workload will be determined by the "feel of the game."
Smith said he decided in the Falcons' bye week between the wins over the Lions and Colts to take some of the load off Turner. Smith said he and his assistant coaches decided that rookie backup Jacquizz Rodgers could be trusted with a more important role.
"That was something that through our evaluation in our bye week we saw that we needed to make sure that we felt comfortable with Jacquizz in basically all phases, not just only as a third-down or a change-of-pace back," Smith said.
"He's proven that he can run the ball from all of our personnel groupings. He has a much better understanding than when he got here in regards to his protection responsibilities. Jacquizz is becoming the player we envisioned that he would be when we drafted him. He's been a great
addition and through the second half of the season, he's another weapon that we'll be able to put out there on the field for our offense."
Turner had 19 carries for 71 yards and a touchdown against the Colts, modest totals by his standards.
Rodgers and Jason Snelling combined for 18 carries for 59 yards. Rodgers' 10 carries for 44 yards were his high totals for the season.
"Any chance you get an opportunity to make plays for your team, it's always a good thing," said Rodgers, a fifth-round pick from Oregon State. "I've got to keep building and getting better every week so it can help me be a better player and help the team."
Turner didn't sound convinced the distribution of carries in the win over the Colts would set the pace for the second half of the season.
"You know, we pretty much had the game in control last week," he said. "It's no need for anything fluky to happen out there and it also gave us a chance for Jacquizz and Snelling to get some work, too, and show what they have. It works good on my part. I'm still fresh for the next game and we got the W. That's what matters."
Turner has had four games with more than 20 carries this season, including back-to-back games with 27 carries against Carolina and Detroit. He has 692 yards rushing with seven touchdowns.
He said he's ready for a heavier dose against the Saints.
"If it needs to be, I'll do whatever it takes to win," he said. "We need this win. We want this win.
"Getting in the 20s and 30s, I'm fine with that. The more I get it, the more I touch it, the more I feel it. I feel the game. Hopefully I'll wear the defense out, wear our opponents out, and pop some big carries in the second half."
Saints defensive tackle Tom Johnson said he noticed the Falcons gave Turner more rest against the Colts.
"They've got three guys they like spreading the ball to," Johnson said.
"They're trying to spread the workload on Turner. He's their go-to guy on first and second down and then the rest of their guys are rotating for third down, so they're one of those teams that is going to want to pound, pound, pound, and open plays for their wide receivers."
Smith said after Wednesday's practice he will make decisions on the carries during the game.
"We try to set parameters, but those are just parameters," Smith said. "It's really going to be the feel of the game and who's got the hot hand and how they're trying to defend us. Michael is our No. 1 back, there's no doubt about it, and sometimes if he's getting stronger as the game goes on, it's going to be tough not to give him those carries."
That's just what Turner, in his fourth season with Atlanta, likes to hear as he continues to move up the Falcons' records.