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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?

Super Bowl champs showed up to ESPYS in style, including a 'Philly Special' homage

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AP Images

Super Bowl champs showed up to ESPYS in style, including a 'Philly Special' homage

The Super Bowl champs showed up to the ESPYS in style on Wednesday night out in Los Angeles.

Nick Foles may have taken home the hardware for best performance in a championship — with a heck of a speech to boot — but it was the Eagles' secondary who won best dressed.

Or maybe just most outrageously baller. Tough to tell these days.

I mean, just look at what Rodney McLeod wore. Purple. No shirt.

The Green Goblin wasn't far behind. Personally, I liked Jalen Mills going with a vest that still showed off his tat.

And then there was Malcolm Jenkins adding a bit of class to the group.

But the sartorial flair that won the evening may have to go to former Eagle and current member of the Chicago Bears Trey Burton, who kept the "Philly Special" close to his heart.

And shouts to Jake Elliott and his hat just because.

AP Images

Are 2018 Eagles better or worse at quarterback?

Are 2018 Eagles better or worse at quarterback?

The one area the Eagles made no major changes from last season is at quarterback. Carson Wentz returns from injury. Somewhat surprisingly, Nick Foles was retained and even signed a contract extension. Nate Sudfeld remains in the fold as well.

The cast may be the same, but with Foles returning to the bench as a Super Bowl MVP, will the Eagles be better or worse off in 2018?

Better

Depth

When Foles took the reins last December, he had barely played or practiced since 2015, his hellish season with the Rams – and, initially, it showed. But after what the 29-year-old signal caller accomplished in the playoffs, does anybody believe Foles is lacking for confidence now? Anybody still wonder whether he’s comfortable running the Eagles’ offense?

Foles is better prepared to take over for Wentz or start Week 1 than he was this time a year ago. So, too, is Sudfeld, who will benefit from his first camp with the team after signing last September, as well as his first NFL game experience in Week 17 against the Cowboys. QB2 and QB3 are both in a better place now, which is remarkable, but true.

Worse

Greater sense of uncertainty

Until the trade deadline comes and goes in October, there’s always the possibility Foles is traded this year. Obviously, there would be some drop-off between the Super Bowl MVP and Sudfeld, a third-year player who’s thrown 23 career passes, should that come to pass.

For now, that’s not the case, but is something to keep an eye for awhile yet.

The same

Nick Foles

Despite everything that’s happened – the winning, the newfound notoriety, going back to the bench, a so-called quarterback controversy, trade murmurs – the one thing you can count on is Foles’ demeanor. He may have questioned himself on the football field at one point in his career, but he’s in a place now where he knows what he’s capable of and his value to the Eagles.

Foles also hasn’t changed much as a player since his historic, breakout campaign in 2013. As long as the offensive line can keep him upright, and he has talented weapons to distribute the ball to, this is somebody that can win you a lot of games in the NFL. There’s no longer any disputing that.

The unknown

Carson Wentz’s knee

Wentz has looked so darn impressive in videos and on the practice field, it’s easy to fall into the trap that his surgically repaired knee is fine, everything is fine. Despite raising the question here, he’s probably better prepared to overcome a torn ACL than some past Eagles quarterbacks who struggled with the recovery in the past – namely Sam Bradford and Donovan McNabb.

Still, more passers than not have come back and looked less than 100 percent in their first season removed from the injury. And many of them had more time to recover than Wentz, who only went down in November.

We don’t even know for sure if Wentz will be cleared to play Week 1. It seems likely he will be, but it’s far from definite. Until he’s playing in actual NFL games, and back to looking like the 2017, MVP-caliber version of himself, all of these concerns give folks some pause before assuming the Eagles would immediately be better off with Wentz under center.

Better or worse?

Fortunately, the determination doesn’t rest solely on Wentz here. A comfortable and confident Foles and the developing Sudfeld should give the Eagles a marginal lift at quarterback. And even after sharing a pile of concerns about Wentz, eventually, possibly sometime in 2018, he will be fine, making Wentz-like escapes and ice-in-his-veins third-down conversions. In fact, if Wentz Is miraculously fine for Week 1, he should still be improving heading into his third season.

Now that’s something BETTER to look forward to.

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