Jay Ajayi is the key to Eagles beating the Falcons

Jay Ajayi is the key to Eagles beating the Falcons

If the Iggles are gonna make it to the NFC Championship game for the first time since the 2008 season, they’re going to have to take the J-Train.

That’s right. Jay Ajayi, a running back ditched by the team that drafted him just a few months ago, holds the keys to the Eagles offensive success this postseason. A lot of fans have been freaking out the past month or so based on the idea that Nick Foles (who has looked objectively atrocious in the past two games) is expected to lead the Eagles through the playoffs. And that’s completely fair; we were all nervous about Foles leading us in the playoffs back in 2013 when he had his infamous 27-2 season. Believing in him now would display a level of faith even Jim Jones would consider extreme.

Which is precisely why head coach Doug Pederson and offensive coordinator Frank Reich should be developing a game-plan that features a heavy dosage of Jay Ajayi.

That’s the easiest way to imagine the Birds winning this game; the play-calling puts the ball in the hands of Ajayi, as well as Legarrette Blount and Corey Clement, and the three of them pound the Falcons defense into submission, eventually opening things up in the air for Foles. Have success on the ground, stay committed to the run, and the Birds will make things easier for their back-up quarterback. That’s the most logical (and lowest-risk) offense game-plan, in its simplest form.

By putting your faith in the running game, you’re not just banking on Ajayi; you’re banking on Lane Johnson and Brandon Brooks (Pro-Bowlers), as well as Jason Kelce, the well-rested Steve Wisniewski, and yes, even Halapoulivaati Vaitai (who by the way, becomes much less of a liability when you ask him to run-block as opposed to pass-block). Give your big uglies a chance to hit some dudes, and see where that offense takes you.

Cause it’s hard to imagine Jim Schwartz and company not keeping the Eagles in this game. Julio Jones and Matt Ryan both haven’t practiced yet this week, and the Birds defense… well, the Birds defense has been outstanding all year. They’re 13-3 and the #1 seed in the NFC in part because of this defense, and they’ve only gotten fresher and healthier over the bye. Sure, Ryan was fantastic under pressure against the Rams, but the Birds pass rush is an entirely different beast, and if you’re making a list of things to worry about in advance of Saturday, the defense should be near the bottom, far below “where are we going to park?” and “will Donnie Jones be wearing pants?”

As for Foles; as Kulp pointed out, he’s had notable success against this style of defense. We’ve all seen him throw seven touchdowns in a game before. If he comes out and plays fantastic, it won’t be the biggest shock in Eagles postseason history. Foles, like Koy Detmer and A.J. Feeley before him, is capable of winning the Eagles games. 

But the reality is, he probably shouldn’t have to. Against the Giants and the Raiders, he threw the ball 38 times each. That’s typically too much for nearly any quarterback (guys with the name Brees or Brady notwithstanding); for a guy like Foles, it’s bordering on ridiculous. We’ll chalk it up to Pederson wanting to get his back-up more reps, but if the Eagles are in a close game with Atlanta this Saturday, and Foles has thrown the ball more than 25 times, they’re probably in some trouble.

A major key to playoff success? Just ask Brian Westbrook:

This is why Ajayi was brought here; he’s the kind of guy you can have a functioning offense built around, a reality proven by the fact that he was the best offensive player on a playoff-caliber team just last season. He can be the workhorse, and what’s more, his success should open up the field, making everything easier for the worry-inducing Foles. If Ajayi ends the day Saturday as the best player on the field, there’s no doubt the Eagles are going to win this game.

Can Ajayi have success against this Falcons D, a group that just shut-down MVP candidate Todd Gurley?

So the only question remaining is; will coach Doug Pederson give him the opportunity?

Mask-wearing pioneer Rip Hamilton has advice for Joel Embiid

Mask-wearing pioneer Rip Hamilton has advice for Joel Embiid

Detroit Pistons star Richard Hamilton wasn't the first player to wear a mask in the NBA but sometimes it feels like he was.

Newsweek caught up with Rip this week to talk about his mask-wearing days and to see if he had any words of wisdom for Joel Embiid. Hamilton first wore a mask for breaking his nose, but he continued to wear it for the remainder of his career.

Embiid made his first playoff appearance of his career last night in Miami while rocking a new mask complete with a custom visor to protect his eyes. It was clearly bothering him but he didn't let it dictate his play.

“It was difficult,” Embiid said of the mask. “But to me it wasn’t really about getting used to it because at the end of the day, no matter how much it bothers me, I’ve still got to be a basketball player."

Hamilton has famously said that he embraced the mask to the point of it becoming his "Batman cape" which allowed him to be more aggresive.

"Over a period of time I started to get used to it. As basketball players, a lot of times you go to the basket and it’s a lot of elbows being thrown, guys are getting poked in the eye," he told Newsweek this week. "You tend to clench up because you don’t want to get hit in the face. Once I started wearing that mask I wasn’t clenching up no more. I was willing to take contact more. I was able to get to the free throw line more because now I’m not scared of getting hit in the face. It kind of made me into a more aggressive and better basketball player."

Hamilton's message to Embiid prior to the series?

"Embrace it. Make it cool. Make it fun. Make it like a prop. Don’t get caught up in saying like, 'I got a piece of plastic on my face. I’m worrying about how I look, I’m worrying about my perception when I shoot.' When you’re out there in, like, shooting drills, don’t be so caught up in putting the mask on and trying to worry about how you shoot with it on. Put it on in the game and just wear it because our game is a non-thinking sport. React. You gotta read and react as quick as possible. The less thinking you do, the better you’ll be."

Rip also took notice of Embiid's frustration with the mask following the game. He encouraged Jo that it only gets easier.

I’ve thrown my mask off numerous times lil bro @joelembiid ...It will get more comfortable game by game ..Trust The Process. #MaskOnMaskOff#YouGotTheJuiceNow #Holdat #Yessir#Mask #TnT #nba #nbaplayoffs #sixers#sixersvsheat #LoveThisGame

Eagles players with the most to gain at OTAs — S Tre Sullivan

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Eagles players with the most to gain at OTAs — S Tre Sullivan

The Eagles don’t hit the practice field as a team for another five weeks, yet each year coaches point to players who distinguish themselves during the months of April and May. These are the players with the most to gain in phases one and two of OTAs.

There isn’t an unheralded prospect in better position to climb the Eagles’ depth chart this spring than Tre Sullivan.

Never mind the fact that vice president of player personnel Joe Douglas just got done lauding Sullivan’s performance in a pre-draft interview on Thursday. The 24-year-old also happens to be one of only four safeties on the Eagles roster for the time being, creating a huge opportunity for an undrafted free agent from Shepherd College.

Competition will come soon enough, as safety is an obvious target for the Eagles in the upcoming draft. Even then, Sullivan could find himself in the mix for a big role with a good spring.

Last season, Corey Graham was the Eagles’ third safety behind Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod. Graham, a free agent departure, wound up playing nearly 40 percent of the team’s snaps.

This isn’t merely a backup job. There’s serious playing time at stake – and Sullivan can get a jump on the competition.

Sullivan made a name for himself in last year’s preseason opener against the Packers with a vicious hit on wide receiver Malachi Dupre. It was a scary moment, as Dupre was knocked out by the collision, but also a clean play and an example of the defensive back’s physicality.

Sullivan forced a fumble on the hit and finished with four tackles. He would go on to acquit himself well in three other preseason games, eventually landing on the Eagles’ practice squad.

Listed at 6-foot-0, 200 pounds, Sullivan is a relatively average size for a safety, but plays downhill and hits like a truck.

The Eagles liked the instincts and aggressiveness they saw on the field. Now, Sullivan has a chance to work out and learn from coaches in an environment where there really aren’t any other young players right now and he can be the focus of a lot of attention. Phases one and two of OTAs and the two weeks before the draft in particular could be a pivotal period.

If Sullivan impresses during these early stages, it could go a long way toward solidifying his place with the team.

Even if Sullivan is bested for the third safety spot, he could still wind up on the 53-man roster. The Eagles may opt to carry five since Chris Maragos primarily plays on special teams.

Sullivan will likely enter training camp as a player who’s considered to be on the bubble, and what he does when the pads go on will be most important. However, if he showed up and really nailed these workouts, that could go a long way toward how the team views him heading into this summer.