Last season, the Eagles made a sneaky move at the trade deadline, acquiring running back Jay Ajayi from the Miami Dolphins for a draft pick. It was another low-risk, high-reward move by executive vice president of football Howie Roseman.
Ajayi had a tremendous 2016 season with the Dolphins, rushing for a career-high 1,272 yards and eight touchdowns. He was also one of the main catalysts in leading Miami to the playoffs that season while showing the NFL he could potentially be a feature back.
That was not the case last season as Ajayi struggled through the first eight games. He only accumulated 465 rushing yards and averaged a disappointing 3.4 yards per carry.
But when he switched conferences last October, the former first-round had a resurgence with the Eagles in their running back by committee system.
Fast forward now to Week 1 of the 2018 season and Ajayi showed everybody, including the Eagles’ coaching staff that he is ready to be the workhorse running back.
In Thursday night’s six-point victory over the Falcons, Ajayi was Philly’s only running back that had some success on the ground. Atlanta did a great job of bottling up both second-year back Corey Clement and veteran Darren Sproles in the first quarter.
However, Ajayi started to get going in the second quarter, punishing the Falcons’ defense with a couple of nice runs in between the tackles. As the game wore on, Ajayi only got stronger and capped off the Eagles’ second offensive drive in the third quarter with a one-yard rushing touchdown.
After the game, head coach Doug Pederson elaborated more on why he used Ajayi the way he did against Atlanta.
“We just tried to find a spark offensively, whether it be the runner, whether it be the run scheme, the run fit, whatever it was, and we just couldn’t find it,” Pederson explained.
“In the second half we made some adjustments at halftime, and I made a conscious effort just to keep him in there on some of those runs. And he was running really hard, and obviously the touchdown late and the two-point conversion were evident of his ability to run the football, and just leaned on him a little bit more in the second half.”
It was certainly a smart decision by Pederson to lean on Ajayi because he had 51 yards and two touchdowns in the second half alone. Over his career, Ajayi has proven to be a better second half back as his yards per carry increases from 4.3 in the first half to 4.4.
While those numbers are not a huge difference, you can see when Ajayi gets into a rhythm it is hard to slow him down.
“Obviously it was a great game for our running back room. The offensive line set the tone. We knew coming into this game that if we were able to go make a [stat] line like we know we can, we would have a good day,” Ajayi said.
“I knew I would have a good day if I just stayed being myself and being the Jay Train. It was exciting to start the season off right.”
For the Eagles to have success this season and especially in these next few games, they will need to get the Jay Train rolling. If he is rolling and wearing down defenses, it will open things up for Clement and Sproles when they are in the game.
The running back by committee carried Philadelphia throughout last season and it can do the same thing for them this season. Nevertheless, Ajayi is already proving that the Eagles need to continue to feed him the ball.