The last time the Falcons and Jay Ajayi met, things did not go well. In a game decided by a mere field goal, Ajayi’s 26 carries for 130 yards kept the Dolphins offense on the field, wore down the Falcons, and ensured Miami got the points they needed to eke out a win. He’s a big, powerful runner, sure, but that game remains the high-water mark of Ajayi’s entire season, and it was a costly loss for the Falcons.
Fast forward to the Divisional Round and the Falcons get to face Ajayi again. He’s part of a more crowded backfield now, running behind a better offensive line, and has been fairly productive thus far for his new team. The Falcons, meanwhile, have dramatically improved their run defense, with more disciplined play and gang tackling at least making a dent in the production of backs like Mark Ingram, Alvin Kamara, and Todd Gurley. Ajayi is not as good as any of those guys, but he is an extremely physical runner.
Yet I feel very confident that Ajayi and the Eagles ground game won’t be as effective as it was earlier in the year, for the simple reason I outlined above. The Falcons’ run defense has improved by leaps and bounds, and with Nick Foles under center, they’ll likely be able to stack the box a bit and play the likes of Derrick Shelby and Brooks Reed more to try to counter the run. Foles could make them pay for that, but until he does, the Falcons should key in on stopping the most productive part of this Eagles offense. If they do, they stand an excellent chance of winning this game.
Of course, for Ajayi and company, it’s an opportunity to smash the Falcons run defense and their reputation as a unit on the rise, and to put the Eagles in the NFC Conference Championship Game. I’m not going to take them lightly in light of that, not after I watched that Dolphins game with such horror earlier in the year. You just won’t see Ajayi popping off for 26 carries and 130 yards again.