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Michael Turner and what to expect from a 200 yard rusher the week after

Posted by Jason Lisk on September 11, 2008

I don't think its an overstatement to say that Michael Turner had a fantastic debut as a starter for the Atlanta Falcons last week. Over on the footballguys message boards, a poster named Abstract posed this very concrete question:

I was just sitting here thinking about Michael Turner's outstanding performance last week and it got me to thinking. Does anyone know what history says about how a guy does following his 200 yard blow up? What does he normally do the next game?

Well, that's what we are here for. What do guys who have big rushing weeks do as an encore? The short answer is, they usually don't run for 200 yards the next game (only one player had back to back 200 yard games since 1995, can you name him?). If your memory is clouded by the most recent occurrences, you might be tempted to guess they don't do so well, based on Jamal Lewis and Adrian Peterson's follow up performances (twice) last year. Neither of those guys reached 70 rushing yards the following week.

As it turns out, it was those performances that were the exception. Certainly, the numbers regress the following week after a truly exceptional performance. But if you are wondering whether Michael Turner is likely to have a pretty good performance next week, based on history, the answer is yes.

Going back to 1995, there have been fifty occasions where a running back has rushed for at least 200 yards in a regular season game. Eight of those occurred in the final week of the regular season, so we will throw those out. For the remaining 42 cases, the running back played in the next game in all of them. Here's how they did:

As a group, they averaged 21.4 rush attempts, 94.8 rushing yards, 24.1 receiving yards, and 1.0 total touchdowns the following week. In a non-points per reception scoring format, they averaged a pretty healthy 18.0 fantasy points the next week.

Just over half of them (22) rushed for at least 100 yards the following week. Over half of them (23) had at least 125 total yards the following week. Twenty-nine (69%) of them scored at least one touchdown the week after. Only seven of them compiled fewer than 100 total yards while also failing to score a touchdown, including both Lewis and Peterson (after the San Diego game) last year.

Okay, but Turner did it on only 22 carries, which included a 66-yard touchdown. What if we only look at the guys who reached 200 carries on relatively low rushing attempt totals. Last year, Doug posted the list of 200 yard games with the fewest rushing attempts. Turner's effort would now rank on that list tied for fifteenth. Every back that gets to 200 rushing yards in a game is necessarily getting some yards in chunks, but perhaps backs that reach it with fewer attempts regress more the following week because it was more related to the luck of one or two long runs.

While I can't go back and tell you how Cliff Battles followed up his 200 yard rushing game for the Boston Redskins in 1933, I can look at the players since 1995. Besides Turner, thirteen players have rushed for 200 or more yards in a game on 25 or fewer rushing attempts. Here's how they followed up the next week:

21.9 rush attempts, 100.3 rush yards, 25.2 receiving yards, 1.1 touchdowns, 19.0 fantasy points

So, the low carry group actually did slightly better than the group as a whole. Only three of them failed to reach 100 total yards the following week--Adrian Peterson last year against Dallas, Willie Parker in 2006 against Cleveland, and Marshall Faulk in 2000 against Kansas City (Faulk had 99 total yards). Only three of them failed to score a touchdown the week after--Warrick Dunn in 2000 against Miami, Edgerrin James in 2004 against Detroit, and Tiki Barber in 2005 against San Fransisco. Tiki Barber's 10.3 fantasy points were the fewest among this group. Barry Sanders had the most, with an encore performance of 167 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns against the Bears in 1997.

If you came here for fantasy advice, waffling on whether you should start Michael Turner or Julius Jones this week, my advice, as controversial as it may be, is go ahead and start Turner.