METAIRIE, La. — The Saints defense isn’t breaking ground when it says knowing what personnel their opponent has on the field is critical to their coming up with a stop.
But Thursday night, it’ll be of the utmost importance to know exactly who is in Atlanta’s backfield.
Because if Michael Turner is in, the play will likely go one way and if it’s Jacquizz Rodgers, the opposite will happen.
“I think it’s pretty predictable depending on which back is in the game,” Saints defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis said.
Ellis described Rodgers as a smaller player who is likely to bounce runs to the outside where he can use his quickness. Turner, on the other hand, tends to run inside, Ellis said.
Turner remains Atlanta’s main back, leading the team with 168 carries, 108 totes more than Rodgers. And the 5-foot-10, 247-pound bowling ball leads the Falcons with 592 yards.
Rodgers, a 5-6, 188-pound speedster, has 231 yards on 60 carries, but adds 288 yards on 35 catches to his resume. In the past two games, he’s averaging 4.3 yards per carry to Turner’s 2.3.
“They’re both effective,” Saints defensive end Will Smith said. “(Rodgers) has been getting more playing time but we expect to see Turner.”
In 2010, Rodgers’ rookie year, he carried the ball over 57 times and caught only 21 passes. Turner, meanwhile, logged 301 carries last season and in the past four years, has totaled 1,189 rushes.
Atlanta coach Mike Smith pledged in March when the Falcons’ offseason program began that things would change and there would be more balance in carries. In that vein, Smith said he was looking for his offense to more resemble New Orleans, which boasts five viable options in the backfield this season.
“It has become more of the vogue thing to do, to have a running back by committee,” Smith said. “I think (New Orleans’) running game down there speaks volumes in terms of what (they) have been doing with (their) run game. There’s not a feature back. I hear about coach Vitt talking about giving everybody their touches and then going with the hot hand.”
In New Orleans’ Nov. 11 31-27 win over Atlanta, Rodgers had three carries for 29 yards while Turner added 15 yards on 13 carries. The Saints held Atlanta to just 46 yards on the ground.
Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins said he doesn’t expect Atlanta to abandon the run this time around.
“I’m sure they’ll come out and try to run the ball and establish the run this game,” Jenkins said. “That’s what they’ll need to do. We’ve got to do a good job with our front four and really try to stop the run and make them one-dimensional.”