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Even though Eagles running back Jay Ajayi was averaging 6.3 yards per carry in the first half of Saturday’s 15-10 win over the Atlanta Falcons, he disappeared for a substantial stretch in the second quarter.
After a one-yard gain on first and 10 from the Falcons’ 31-yard line with 13:29 remaining in the second quarter, Ajayi didn’t touch the ball again until the Eagles’ first snap of the third quarter, when he was stuffed for a 2-yard loss.
Eagles head coach Doug Pederson insisted again Monday that Ajayi’s absence was a product of the game plan.
“I ultimately control the personnel,” Pederson said Monday. “[Running backs coach] Duce Staley doesn’t call any plays. I call on different guys in particular situations. A couple of times you come off a long run, or a big pass, it can be a good time to go a little [up]tempo. In that case, whoever is the back at the time, we just keep him on the field.
“At that point, [LeGarrette Blount] was heating up a little bit. We wanted to get him going, too. It’s just the way it goes.”
There is evidence to support an uptempo attack: On a 74-yard third quarter drive, quarterback Nick Foles seemed in command of the offense while playing with confidence.
However, the offense was stopped for minus-five yards rushing while Ajayi was on the bench.
Despite the struggles in Ajayi’s absence, Pederson doesn’t sound like he will deviate his running back rotation in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game against the Minnesota Vikings.
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“Every back knows the running game,” Pederson said. “They know the passing game. The way it is set up is by design, by scheme-design, a particular back might be good in a particular run-scheme, so we put that back in on certain plays. However, if we break off a long pass or a run, there is a chance that I’ll go hurry uptempo, which is why they have to know the full complement of the offense.”
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Jay Ajayi wasn’t hurt Saturday night. So why did he barely play after a huge first quarter?
Ajayi dominated the first quarter of the Eagles’ 15-10 playoff win over the Falcons at the Linc with seven carries for 49 yards. But after a one-yard carry a minute into the second quarter, he didn’t touch the ball again until the third quarter.
After his hot start, he didn’t even get on the field on the Eagles’ last two drives of the first half.
LeGarrette Blount actually had more carries than Ajayi after the first quarter, but netted only 19 yards on nine attempts, although he did score the Eagles’ only touchdown from a yard out in the second quarter.
Ajayi never got into a rhythm after his long layoff. He had eight carries for five yards after the first quarter and finished with 15 carries for 54 yards along with four catches for 44 yards, including a 32-yard catch and run that was the Eagles’ longest offensive play of the game.
Head coach Doug Pederson said Monday he just wanted to get Blount some work. He also said he likes to go hurry-up after long plays and was unable to sub Ajayi while the offense was going with tempo. But there weren’t any plays longer than 15 yards while Ajayi sat.
Pederson said the decision on which back to use rests with him and not running backs coach Duce Staley.
“I ultimately control the personnel,” he said. “Duce doesn’t sub them. I’m the one calling the plays, so I call for those guys in particular situations, and a couple times when we broke off a long run or a pass particularly – it’s a good time to go a little tempo. So whoever the back is at the time on the field, I just kept him in there.
“And [Blount] was heating up a little bit and we wanted to get him going as well and it’s just the way it went.”
Ajayi had 35 of the 86 net yards on the Eagles’ only touchdown drive of the game.
After that second-quarter TD drive, the Eagles ran 15 times for 17 yards, not including three Nick Foles kneel-downs.
Pederson said all the backs know all the plays, but he just prefers different backs depending on what the Eagles are doing offensively.
Of the Eagles’ 67 offensive plays, Ajayi played 29, Blount 20, Corey Clement 16 and Kenjon Barner one (see Snap Counts).
“The way it is set up is by design, by scheme design, a particular back might be good at a certain run scheme so we put that back in for that particular play,” he said.