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:
If yesterday's games taught you anything, it should be "to win in the playoffs you have to be able to run the ball and stop the run!! Anyone listening?— Brian Westbrook (@36westbrook) January 7, 2018
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?
Here’s a list of guys who’ve rushed for 110 yards or more against the Falcons over the last two years:— Reuben Frank (@RoobNBCS) January 7, 2018
Jay Ajayi [Dolphins], 130 yards, Oct. 15, 2017
So the only question remaining is; will coach Doug Pederson give him the opportunity?