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Turner’s DUI, other injuries concern Falcons
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Eds: Updates with quotes, details. With AP Photos.
By GEORGE HENRY
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith had plenty of concerns following his team’s late-night victory over Denver.
Injuries. Running game. Then he had to add Michael Turner’s off the field troubles to the list.
The former Pro Bowl running back was arrested for drunken driving and speeding early Tuesday morning.
Smith said he met with Turner after his release from jail and expressed the organization’s disappointment. The coach would not say if the Falcons (2-0) will discipline him before they visit San Diego (2-0) on Sunday.
Turner, 30, is expected to attend the team’s customary film sessions and position meetings and to practice when players return Wednesday from their off day.
“Oh, he’ll be in here” Wednesday, Smith said. “No doubt.”
Smith said the Falcons are “disappointed when a player sheds a negative light on our organization. I can’t say any more than that.”
There were other issues to address. The 5-foot-10, 244-pound Turner is just one of Smith’s concerns.
Defensively, the Falcons don’t know if nickel back Christopher Owens will be cleared to play. Owens sustained a concussion against Denver.
Smith said several other players will be listed on the injury report this week.
Three defensive starters — cornerback Asante Samuel, nose tackle Peria Jerry and right end John Abraham — were treated on the sideline during the game, but each returned to the field.
Samuel left in the first quarter with a jammed neck, but still finished with seven tackles. Abraham and Jerry were hurt in the fourth quarter.
With the team leaving for San Diego on Friday, Smith plans to take it easy on his players after a 3-hour, 27-minute game on Monday that was bogged down by a sideline scrum and an inexperienced group of replacement officials.
The Falcons won 27-21.
“We want to get everybody recovered and as fresh as possible,” Smith said. “That was a very physical football game last night that was way too long and ended way too early in the morning.”
The Falcons also need to get their rushing attack on the right track.
Turner has struggled on the field and is averaging nearly 2 yards per attempt under his 4.5 career mark from 2004-10. Smith refused to say whether Turner’s issues off the field and anything to do with his struggles on it.
“You can’t speculate on that at all,” Smith said.
On Atlanta’s first possession, Turner was stopped twice on first-and-goal from the 1 for no gain. But on his next carry, he jumped over a pile of linemen on both teams to give the Falcons an early touchdown lead.
Still, the Falcons’ rushing attack, which ranks 26th in the NFL, could face a stiff challenge from a San Diego defense’s ranks first against the run.
Turner gained just 27 yards on his first 16 carries against the Broncos. On his final attempt, Turner broke off a 15-yard run that allowed Atlanta to run out the clock and secure the victory.
“We had a couple of opportunities to get some first downs (earlier in the fourth quarter), but until the last drive we didn’t have any success,” quarterback Matt Ryan said. “That last drive our guys really stepped up, our offensive line did a great job allowing us to run the football. They opened up holes for Michael Turner.”
The Falcons’ pass defense earned a boost in confidence by intercepting Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning three times in the first quarter.
It marked the first time Atlanta reaped the benefits from the offseason in replacing former defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder with Mike Nolan.
Though Nolan began the game with a 1-6 record as a coordinator and head coach against Manning, the Falcons excelled at disguising coverages and dropping safeties William Moore and Thomas DeCoud deeper than the four-time NFL MVP seemed to expect.
Moore, DeCoud and reserve cornerback Robert McClain each picked off Manning. The pass rush helped all night, finishing with three sacks and three additional quarterback hits.
“We did a very good job, and when the opportunity arose to make plays on balls in the air, we created three interceptions and (we had) the one fumble recovery,” Smith said. “Our third-down efficiency improved. I think we made some strides.”
Atlanta’s defense is still suspect against the run having allowed an average of 135 yards and four touchdowns over the last two weeks.