Falcons-Eagles: Quinn Gearing Up For Punch in the Mouth
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - Doug Pederson is fond of the idiom "if it ain't broke, don't fix it," so it should be no surprise that the Eagles seem to be doing the maintenance on Jay Ajayi so when Saturday rolls around and they pull the cord on their big back, the results will be similar to what they were in Week 6.
That's when Ajayi, who still called Miami home at the time, gouged the Atlanta defense for 130 yards on 26 carries during a 20–16 Dolphins upset, the most productive single-game performance against Dan Quinn's top-10 ranked scoring defense this season.
More so, if you go back to the Falcons' 2016 Super Bowl campaign, you'll see a 24-15 blemish for Atlanta in Lincoln Financial Field, a game in which the Eagles rumbled for 208 yards on the ground.
"It was painful to watch for sure,” the engaging Quinn said during his conference call with the Philadelphia-area media. “We definitely give them the credit. They played terrifically and we didn’t give them our best version of ourselves and so that was disappointing in the game. But no disrespect to them. They certainly played better, coached better. That game was certainly some of our lows.”
Falcons defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel was more succinct: "They hit us in the mouth," the former safety admitted.
And Pederson and offensive coordinator Frank Reich plan to punch again with Ajayi as the centerpiece of a RB-by-committee approach that will also include LeGarrette Blount and Corey Clement.
Ajayi has had chronic knee issues dating back to his days at Boise State which affected his draft stock and the Eagles rested him in the meaningless Week 17 regular-season finale while also giving him a load-management day during the bye week, all in an effort to ensure that the former Pro Bowl selection would be at a peak-performance level for the postseason.
Quinn can see that from afar and understands what's waiting for his defense in South Philadelphia.
“He has excellent change of direction," the Atlanta coach said of Ajayi. "We lost some leverage on some tackles where he was able to extend some plays. I definitely give credit to him. He’s a guy that we have our respect for. He had a good day down here in Atlanta earlier this year.”
While extremely fast and athletic on the defensive side the Falcons have gone with the current trend in the pass-happy NFL, an undersized middle linebacker in Deion Jones who can run from sideline to sideline.
The key from Atlanta's perspective is that defensive tackles Grady Jarrett and Dontari Poe keep the Philadelphia offensive linemen engaged so Jones can flow to the football and use his athleticism to make plays.
Conversely, if Jason Kelce and Co. can get to the second level, it will be a long afternoon for the 222-pound Jones, a LB who is actually smaller than two of the backs he will be trying to drag down, Ajayi and Blount.
The Eagles are going to throw that punch early and if it lands, Pederson isn't about to fix something that isn't broken.
"It's win or go home," Ajayi said. "It's a three-game war for us. This is a team that's in the way of what we want to accomplish. We understand what the outside world thinks of us right now and we're OK with that. We believe in what we have, who we have."
973espn.com Prediction: Eagles 20, Falcons 17
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen