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Jay Ajayi Could Be Ramping Up At Right Time

Posted Dec 15, 2017

Lost in everything that happened on Sunday in Los Angeles was the involvement of Jay Ajayi in the Eagles’ running game. Ajayi played 43 snaps, his most in a game since joining the Eagles at the trade deadline in early November, and had 15 carries for 78 yards and looked ready to handle more of the load for the Eagles on the ground ...

Lost in everything that happened on Sunday in Los Angeles was the involvement of Jay Ajayi in the Eagles’ running game. Ajayi played 43 snaps, his most in a game since joining the Eagles at the trade deadline in early November, and had 15 carries for 78 yards and looked ready to handle more of the load for the Eagles on the ground.

In five games with Philadelphia, Ajayi has 44 carries for 307 yards, averaging 7.0 yards per carry. He’s added another six receptions for 30 yards. The workload is nothing like the one Ajayi had in Miami for the two-plus seasons he was there. Ajayi averaged 14.4 carries per game and averaged 17.3 carries per game in 2016 when Ajayi ran for 1,272 yards and eight touchdowns.

Maybe it’s time for Ajayi to take on a more significant role with the Eagles down the stretch? Just thinking out loud here …

“I go out and just run the plays that coach has called,” Ajayi said. “Last week I was in there a lot more just taking advantage of the opportunities and playing my game. If that means that I’m out there more, it is what it is. Embrace the role and continue to produce for the team.”

It’s likely the Eagles are going to see defenses creeping toward the line of scrimmage and stuffing the box and trying to take away some of the shine of the No. 2-ranked run offense in the NFL with Carson Wentz sidelined. Until quarterback Nick Foles carves up defenses that blitz or makes them pay for playing eight men in the box, the Eagles are probably going to see a lot of those kinds of alignments in the weeks ahead.

Against the Giants and the exotic pressure packages that interim head coach Steve Spagnuolo will no doubt employ, the Eagles might need to lean on the running game just a bit. Not to protect Foles, because that kind of thinking is something that is just not part of the Eagles’ equation right now. They have full confidence in Foles and his ability to keep the Eagles playing at such a high level offensively.

But it’s the time of the year when cold temperatures, swirling winds, and precipitation make a reliable running game imperative.

“Late in the year it’s time to make sure that your run game is on point especially leading into the playoffs,” Ajayi said. “Every game counts and these games are really when you want your run game to get going. I think it was always in the back of our minds that, as the season was getting closer to the playoffs, we wanted to make sure our run game was on point.”

Ajayi looked smooth and explosive and elusive in Los Angeles last weekend. He understands the playbook and the concepts in the offense and, well, he’s been here before. In Miami last year, quarterback Ryan Tannehill suffered a season-ending knee injury on December 11 and Ajayi helped take Miami to the postseason. Ajayi had 19 carries and 51 yards in a victory over the Giants and then erupted for 206 yards and a touchdown on 32 carries in a Christmas Eve win against the Bills.

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Miami’s offense stalled in the regular-season finale loss to New England (Ajayi had 16 carries and 59 yards, and three receptions for 20 yards) and in the first-round playoff loss at Pittsburgh (16-33 rushing, 3-12 receiving).

Ajayi’s focus is the playoffs and helping the Eagles beat the Giants and clinch a playoff bye week.

“I know the playbook. Very comfortable with the plan that we have going into each week. I believe Duce (Staley, running backs coach) does a great job and also the offensive coaches of just preparing us in the running back room and you know what the game plan is going into the week,” he said. “Myself, knowing my set plays and being comfortable with that and being ready to go at any time.”

Is the eight-man box something that Ajayi thinks the offense could see starting Sunday?

“I wouldn’t be surprised if that happened again,” he said.

So how do the Eagles win when they see it and have a running play called?

“Same mentality as if it wasn’t (an eight-man front),” Ajayi said. “Read your keys, have a great offensive line. I know they’ll make a crease and it’s about making one guy miss and after that just making a play.”

And going to the house. Ajayi has that breakaway ability, and he and LeGarrette Blount and Corey Clement give the Eagles three backs who present different looks to defenses. Maybe now, in the middle of December, Ajayi’s role is ready to expand.

Sunday will be so telling for a number of reasons – is the defense ready to dominate? What about Foles? How much is the offense going to rely on the running game? – and Ajayi’s role is one of the side stories.

If he’s called upon for more touches, Ajayi says he’s ready to go.

“Whatever they ask of me I’m going to do. If that means more carries then I’ll be ready for the challenge,” he said.

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