Jay Ajayi's Week 2 role remains a mystery

Eliot Shorr-Parks
September 14, 2018 - 6:50 am

By the time the Eagles' win over the Atlanta Falcons in Week 1 was over, running back Jay Ajayi did lead the team in rushing attempts by a considerable margin. 

It is how he got there that had everyone scratching their head. 

Ajayi, who was billed as the Eagles' No. 1 back all offseason, carried the ball just three times in the first half of the Eagles' season opener. He got into the game after running back Darren Sproles, and took a backseat to both Sproles and running back Corey Clement in the first half. 

It wasn't until the second half that Ajayi, who finished the game with 15 carries, really started to see consistent action. Ajayi wasn't upset, but also didn't sound overly thrilled with the way he was used against the Falcons when asked about it this week. 

"I just do what I am told," Ajayi said, "Obviously I believe in my talent and what I can do on the field. If they need me to run the ball as many times, I'll do that. I just play my role."

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Why Ajayi was on the bench for most of the first half against the Falcons has been one of the biggest questions coming out of the win over the Falcons. It also has many wondering if that will be the case as well this upcoming Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 

Offensive coordinator Mike Groh made it sound like Ajayi's role as a closer was a one-time thing. 

"I think that was one of those things that just happened organically. It wasn’t something we set out to do," Groh said of Ajayi sitting most of the first half. "We didn't have a lot of snaps in the first half and weren't as productive as we wanted to be. That limited a lot of guys' playing time in the first half in particular. We really got the running game going in the fourth quarter, and Jay was a big part of that. I thought he ran really well and he looked strong running the football. Made some good plays, guys were bouncing off him, and he showed good vision.

Head coach Doug Pederson reiterated this week that Ajayi will continue to be the starting running back, but also reminded everyone that the Eagles do also like to spread the ball around at running back. The issue with that plan is that, at least against the Falcons, Ajayi was clearly the top running back. Sproles finished with 10 yards on five carries. Of the 26 yards that Clement gained on the ground, 21 came on one play that was the result of a huge hole. Clement gained five yards on his other four carries.  

The Buccaneers allowed just 43 yards on the ground against the New Orleans Saints last Sunday, but that was more the result of the Saints being behind the entire game than a strong run defense. Tampa was 23rd in the NFL against the rush last season, and although they have added some new players along the defensive line, the Eagles should be able to move the ball against them this Sunday on the ground. 

Especially if they give the ball to Ajayi throughout the game.

"He'll continue to be a big part," Groh said, "of what we do in the run game."

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