Stronger in numbers: A dream debut for Jay Ajayi showed how lethal Eagles backfield can be

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The Eagles shook the foundations of the NFL when they traded for Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi during the week. A team that had entered the season with five running backs was now even stronger than before, but there were plenty of questions that needed answers. How would Ajayi fit into the Eagles scheme? Would there be push-back from the likes of LeGarrette Blount? We were given both of those answers on Sunday…and they have left the rest of the NFL quaking.

Philadelphia rushed for 197 yards against a Denver defense that entered today’s game ranked 2nd in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game (72.9 yards per game through Week 8). The game would be their third of 190+ rushing yards this year, and their eighth consecutive game in which they’ve rushed for 100+ yards. A Statement? I think so.

It didn’t take Ajayi long to be dropped into the game either. Leading the team in rushing with 77-yards and a stunning 46-yard touchdown, the Pro Bowler looked just as dominant as he did one-year ago, showing no sign of the “step back” that was portrayed in Miami this season.

In the same way it didn’t take Ajayi long to make an impact, it also didn’t take the Brit long to fit right in to the culture of the Eagles offense.

“Definitely believe we can do a lot of special things here” Ajayi explained after his Eagles debut. “Great running back room and glad to be part of the dynamic that we have in there.  I mean look, that’s a great defense that we just ran on. We put 200 yards on that team over there. So I think you have to tip your hat to all of us that ran the ball today. I think we all did some special things out there.”

“He’s got some explosion, explosiveness.” Said Eagles Head Coach Doug Pederson after the game. “Things we saw on film. Again, didn’t want to give him a big workload, but at the same time wanted to get him in the game and see what he could do, and he did a nice job for us. [He] had the long touchdown run there, I believe in the second quarter, and did some really nice things for us. We’ll just keep increasing his workload as we go.”

Explosive was one word…and it’s one that defines the entire backfield. The Eagles have a committee effort once again and it’s more dangerous than ever. Darren Sproles may be sidelined and the receiving aspect may have dwindled…but the Birds are running angrily week-after-week and don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.

The Eagles have embraced Ajayi as one of their own, welcoming him to the nest and helping him soar during his few short days at the NovaCare Complex. LeGarrette Blount has been the man in the spotlight since arriving in Philadelphia, receiving the Lions share of carries and instilling a new gritty culture when running downhill in the process. The arrival of Ajayi may have provoked many running backs to get defensive, especially one whose contract expires at the end of the season. Instead, Blount shared a champions mentality and embraced the new back who has previously had character concerns, with open arms.

“[His drought] ended today.” Blount said after the blowout. “I’m excited to have him here because I’ve been a fan of his all the way back to last year. He’s a really good player and is an exciting and dynamic player to watch. I like him a lot, and for the few days he was at practice this week, he said we’re going to be good and get this. They told us that we had to run the football on these guys, and that’s something he was really excited about, as you could see.”

Surprisingly, it wasn’t Ajayi either who was given the most touches. That honor fell to undrafted rookie Corey Clement, who made the most of his opportunity by scoring three touchdowns and amassing a total of 83 yards. But even in the most explosive game of his career, Clement was receptive and excited about the new-look backfield.

“Once Jay [Ajayi] got into the room, we noticed that he is definitely a competitor. A great contribution to a group means a lot. I am pretty sure everyone on the outside thought it was going to create some turmoil in our room, but at the same time, we are having fun. When Ajayi is in the game, we are rooting for him. When he is not on the field, he is rooting for us. It just shows the type of player he is and we want to carry that throughout the whole season.”

Perhaps the only thing that can stop this Eagles team from rolling through defenses is themselves…and that’s something that they’re so sure they can avoid, that adding a new lead-running back into the fold has actually made them even more dangerous. If the Eagles can man-handle the most tenacious run-defense in the league….the rest of the NFL will be running scared.

 

Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

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