1:00 PM ET, December 11, 2011
Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, NC
The Atlanta Falcons are in the thick of the NFC wild-card race, and re-establishing their running game may improve those postseason chances.
With Turner on the cusp of matching a 23-year-old franchise record, the Falcons look to rebound from a loss by sweeping another season series from the NFC South rival on Sunday.
The Falcons (7-5) are tied with Chicago and Detroit for the wild-card lead heading into the final four weeks of the regular season.
Atlanta's postseason hopes took a slight hit with last week's 17-10 loss at Houston as the team was held to 70 yards rushing -- its second-lowest total of the season. Turner accounted for 44 on 14 carries after gaining 60 yards on 19 rushes in a 24-14 win over Minnesota the previous week.
Turner has dominated the Panthers (4-8) to the tune of 707 yards with an average of 4.7 per carry and 11 touchdowns in the past seven meetings.
He raced for a season-high 139 yards and two scores on 27 rushes in a 31-17 win over Carolina in Week 6.
"He's going to be real big, especially this week," wide receiver Roddy White said. "He's had a lot of success against these guys. We always get off to a good start and get the ball in his hands. He opens up the play action pass for us.
"In this game, it's really crucial to get him off to a really, really good start, just let him pound those guys for a little while then throw it over their heads. He's going to be a real focal point this week."
Turner's contributions this week may be even more pronounced as the Panthers' run defense ranks 27th in the NFL, surrendering an average of 132.5 yards.
Carolina is also without two key defensive tackles after Sione Fua (hamstring) and Terrell McClain (knee) became the 13th and 14 players, respectively, added to the team's injured reserve list this week. They'll be replaced by Andre Neblett and Frank Kearse, and coach Ron Rivera is aware of the challenge that poses against Turner.
"It kind of takes the wind out of your sails a little bit," Rivera said. "The big thing with (Turner) is you can't allow him to get started because he is tough to bring down."
Turner is one rushing touchdown shy of tying Gerald Riggs' franchise record of 48 set in 1988.
Turner also needs eight yards to reach 1,000 for a second consecutive season and third time in four years.
While Turner looks to continue his success against the Panthers, Matt Ryan hopes to rebound from last week's subpar effort. He completed 20 of 47 for 267 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions for a season-low 50.6 passer rating.
Despite that performance, he nearly threw a game-tying touchdown as time expired against Houston, but Julio Jones couldn't haul in a pass in the corner of the end zone.
"This past Sunday, I should have made that play," Jones told the team's official website. "If you put any receiver, any athlete, in that situation, they'll feel like they should have made that play. I didn't so I've just got to keep moving forward and try to get better."
Jones missed the last meeting with the Panthers with a hamstring injury, and Ryan only needed to complete 12 of 22 passes for 163 yards with one TD while running for another score.
The Falcons are trying to win four in a row versus Carolina for the first time since a six-game streak from 2000-02. They won 31-10 in their last visit to Carolina in Week 14 of last season behind Turner's three touchdowns and 112 rushing yards.
The Panthers' running game is also formidable, ranking fifth in the league at 137.6 yards per game -- 364 total while winning the last two games.
That's partly due to rookie Cam Newton, who has 518 rushing yards and a 5.2 average per attempt while setting the single-season record for touchdowns on the ground by a quarterback with 13.
Newton has six rushing TDs over the last three games, while throwing for two. He ran for three scores and threw for another in last week's 38-19 win at Tampa Bay.
Newton hasn't been picked off in his last two games after he was intercepted four times by Detroit on Nov. 20. He threw three interceptions in the October loss to the Falcons.
"He most certainly is getting better and better each week," Rivera told the team's official website. "He's getting a greater understanding and feel for what we want to do and what we need to do."
More from ESPN.com
Falcons release WR Douglas, save on cap
The Atlanta Falcons have released wide receiver Harry Douglas.
Falcons part ways with veteran RB Jackson
The Atlanta Falcons have released veteran running back Steven Jackson, a source told ESPN's Adam Schefter, a move which will save the team $3.75 million against the salary cap.
Source: Hardy eyes immediate reinstatement
Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy will seek immediate reinstatement into the NFL, a league source told ESPN.com.
Umenyiora doesn't plan to retire this year
Osi Umenyiora has no immediate plans to retire with his Atlanta Falcons' contract set to expire on March 10.
Falcons-Panthers: 10 observations
After breaking down film of both teams, Scouts Inc. offers 10 things to watch in this week's Falcons-Panthers matchup.
1. Keep Cam Newton in the backfield: In the Panthers' Week 13 win over Tampa Bay, Newton set an NFL record with his 13th rushing touchdown of the year. Atlanta needs to keep the running lanes secure by setting the edge with its defensive ends and having its front seven squeeze the lanes down. The Falcons want to keep Newton on his heels and inside the pocket rather than allowing him to escape to the outside and into the open field.
Recent Blog Posts
- Will the franchise tag sting the Falcons?
- Jonathan Massaquoi also no longer in Falcons' plans
- Dan Quinn wants Sean Weatherspoon back in fold
|Avg Points Allowed||20.5||27.3|
Team Averages & NFL Ranks
|TEAM OFFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|TEAM DEFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|Pass Yds Allowed||ATL|
|Rush Yds Allowed||ATL|
Head to Head Matchups (Since 2001)
|Atlanta leads 15-7|
|Oct 16, 2011||ATL 31, CAR 17|
|Jan 2, 2011||ATL 31, CAR 10|
|Dec 12, 2010||ATL 31, @CAR 10|
|Nov 15, 2009||ATL 19, @CAR 28|
|Sep 20, 2009||ATL 28, CAR 20|
|Nov 23, 2008||ATL 45, CAR 28|
|Sep 28, 2008||ATL 9, @CAR 24|
|Nov 11, 2007||ATL 20, @CAR 13|
|Sep 23, 2007||ATL 20, CAR 27|
|Dec 24, 2006||ATL 3, CAR 10|
|Sep 10, 2006||ATL 20, @CAR 6|
|Jan 1, 2006||ATL 11, CAR 44|
|Dec 4, 2005||ATL 6, @CAR 24|
|Dec 18, 2004||ATL 34, CAR 31|
|Oct 3, 2004||ATL 27, @CAR 10|
|Dec 7, 2003||ATL 20, CAR 14|
|Sep 28, 2003||ATL 3, @CAR 23|
|Nov 24, 2002||ATL 41, @CAR 0|
|Oct 20, 2002||ATL 30, CAR 0|
|Nov 25, 2001||ATL 10, @CAR 7|
|Sep 23, 2001||ATL 24, CAR 16|