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Turner returns to prominence

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(AP photo)
Atlanta Falcons running back Michael Turner runs out of the tackle of Carolina Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn during the first half Sept. 30 in Atlanta.

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Running back Michael Turner has found his groove and it couldn’t come at a better time for the Atlanta Falcons.

The first two weeks of the season were tough on Turner, who struggled to establish some rhythm on the field and made his circumstances worse with a Sept. 18 arrest on DUI and speeding charges.

But the Northern Illinois alumnus’ showing over the last two weeks proves that Turner perhaps has regained some focus in Atlanta’s offense.

“Yeah, and hopefully we can keep that going,” Turner said on Friday. “There’s still some things we need to improve on, but we’re winning, so everything’s fine. You’d like to fix it while we’re winning than wait ‘til something bad happens and then you start worrying about it. Get it while it’s good.”

Turner averaged a paltry 2.6 yards per carry over his first 28 attempts this season, his most explosive run coming 15-yard gain that helped the Falcons seal a Week 2 victory over Denver.

A few hours after the game, Turner was arrested in Gwinnett County driving 97 mph on Interstate-85 and was charged with DUI.

Because it’s still an ongoing legal matter, Turner said he will not comment on the incident until it’s complete, but he did apologize for embarrassing the team and vowed to get better on the field.

His promise has held true so far.

Turner has averaged 6.8 yards per attempt over the last two weeks and looks more like the two-time Pro Bowl running back who has rushed for 5,538 yards and a franchise record 52 touchdowns since signing as a free agent in 2008.

When Turner is in sync, Atlanta’s opponents are forced to bring up a safety for run support, a scenario that gives quarterback Matt Ryan the option of using play-action passes to exploit one-on-one matchups for receivers Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez and Julio Jones.

It’s a good formula for success and one that Atlanta (4-0) hopes to keep building on Sunday at Washington (2-2).

“When [you] play against us, what are you going to do?” said Gonzalez, the 16th-year tight end and the NFL’s No. 2 career-leading receiver. “It just adds to the choose-your-poison offense that we want to be, that we strive to be.”

“We’ll see what they to do, but if they want to stop the run, they’ve got to put more people in the box, which is going to open up for Matt and passing game to throw it to us. So that’s the good balance and we’ve got to keep it up.”

Four-time Pro Bowl receiver Roddy White benefited enormously from the man-to-man matchups against Carolina, catching for 169 yards and two touchdowns.

“Any time we can get the big guy running like that and those guys got to bring their safeties down to the box, me and Julio are going to have a fun day,” White said. “We love when we can get that safety down there and helping out on the run and we can play-action and go deep and things like that. If the big boy can run like that for the next 13 games [laughing], we’ll be fine.”

The Falcons are third in scoring with 31 points per game, maybe not a good omen for a Washington defense that allows an average of 30.8 and ranks 27th.

Washington’s pass rush has produced just seven sacks, with 3.5 of them belonging to outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, but Turner believes the Redskins could still pose some problems with ball security.

Led by 15th-year inside linebacker London Fletcher, Washington’s 3-4 front has helped lead an attack that ranks sixth in the NFL with nine takeaways.

“He’s probably the most underrated player in the league,” Turner said. “His resume speaks for itself. He’s always going to be around the football. He has a great nose for the football, has great skills to get off blockers and make plays. We’ve got to be able to handle him and other guys. They’ve got some big boys up front, too.”

Turner just wants to keep staying his current course — shoulder pads square, hitting an open space and breaking tackles into the second level of the defense.

He even showed some savvy in the passing game last week, catching a screen over the middle and running for a 60-yard touchdown.

“We want to be two-dimensional offensively,” Turner said. “As long as we can keep improving, we’ll be all right.”

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