When it comes to the NFL, it’s a chess match out there, and like any chess game, some pieces are more valuable than others. For example, when the Falcons went against the Packers, I wrote an article on how the Falcons should attack Aaron Rodgers, who is easily the most valuable piece the Packers have.
Against the Dolphins, it’s a bit different. There’s a few different ways to go with it, as to who is their most valuable piece that we must absolutely stop, or limit, if we want success. It could be Ndamokong Suh, Cameron Wake, or the legend himself, Jay Cutler. But when it comes down to it, the name that kept popping into my head is Jay Ajayi.
At 6’0, 220+ pounds, he is a load. He is a freight train. They have even assigned him the nickname The Jay Train, and it’s well earned. According to Pro Football Focus, he is hard to bring down, with 200 of his 261 yards having come AFTER initial contact. That means it isn’t necessarily the offensive line that should be credited for his success.
This guy is just a tough one to bring down. The reason I bring this up is simple: The size of this guy compared to the size of the Falcons linebackers, may be favorable to the Dolphins. The Falcons Linebackers (especially coming into the league) have always been considered undersized compared to the norm. But, don't fret. Here’s the formula, in my opinion, for the Falcons to be able to stop this train in its tracks.
I just mentioned the undersized linebackers. While true, Atlanta’s defense does pride itself on coming together to make a play. I’m not so sure many players in the entire league could tackle a guy like Ajayi one on one. It’ll have to be a group effort.
One thing Atlanta has going for them, thankfully, is pure speed. They fly. And that could be beneficial because when that first initial contact occurs, another guy or multiple guys could come clean up the rest.
Fill the gaps
The thing about Ajayi, as mentioned, is after contact yards. He’s been hit behind the line often, he just finds a way to slither out of it. And then he breaks through an open hole and can rumble, and that’s not good.
Atlanta must stay true to their gap assignments to limit that. Regardless of if a player gets into the backfield, they have to stay true to their assignments and keep those lanes filled, so if he does break initial contact, he runs into a wall, rather than sneaks through a gap for a big gain. This may be a game that Dontari Poe really has to make his presence felt.
That’s pretty straightforward, isn’t it? Don’t get cute. The thing about going against a tough run game is getting caught in formations that aren’t ready to pass rush. Defensive looks with Vic Beasley—if he plays—and Takk McKinley may not be favorable against the run. But if Atlanta doesn’t limit the run, it’ll be a chess match.
IF Atlanta can stop Ajayi, and stick to Nickel formations and their best pass rushers run wild off the edges, that’s a highly favorable matchup. Whereas Ajayi being successful could open up play action, and leave Atlanta vulnerable, caught with their pass rushing formation on the field, and extra defensive back, and get caught with a run play. No bueno.
Atlanta has to bring multiple bodies to bring Ajayi down, not stop until the whistle, and stay true to their gaps. Make the Dolphins lean on the pass and it’ll be a favorable matchup for this defense.