Trouble On the Horizon: Why the Dolphins Desperately Need Jay Ajayi Back in the Fold
Arian Foster’s performance in Sunday’s game against the Seahawks was an overwhelming positive for most. He displayed many of the signature abilities, including vision and receiving talent, and racked up an even 100 total yards (38 rushing, 62 receiving).
Against a strong Seahawks defense, Foster did exactly what he needed to. He served as an outlet for Tannehill and was a steady presence in the backfield. Foster does not dance around and risk negative plays; he simply picks a lane, and if that lane only allows him a three-yard gain, then so be it.
However, there is a big problem when you look at Arian Foster’s performance and consider what it could mean for the Dolphins as they work through the marathon that is a 16-game NFL season.
In the first half, Arian Foster had 84 total yards. 63 of those yards came in the first quarter. Many would point out that 50 of those yards did come on one play, which was a screen from Ryan Tannehill. This is true, but he was fresh enough in the first quarter to make defenders miss and produce that type of gain. It wasn’t a wide-open run; Foster made it happen.
In the second quarter, Foster produced 21 yards. Those came on a six-yard run, a nine-yard run, a run for no gain and a six-yard catch.
Foster’s second quarter play is not even the red flag. However, his play in the second half raised concerns.
As the game wore on, Foster’s fatigue became clear. By the end, Foster was gassed. His only plays in the fourth quarter were as follows:
- Two-yard rush
- Rush for no gain
- Three-yard rush
- Rush for no gain
- Two-yard rush
These plays are far from optimal. Foster had five fourth quarter touches directly, and they netted seven yards.
The issue was compounded by a situation that the Dolphins were far from prepared for: the absence of Jay Ajayi.
Arian Foster was on the field for 46 snaps on Sunday, which means he was in for 87% of the Dolphins’ offensive plays. In addition to his touches while carrying and receiving, Foster took a beating due to his role in pass protection. Damien Williams and Kenyan Drake cannot be trusted to protect the quarterback; Foster was their only option.
The Dolphins only used Damien Williams on six plays. Kenyan Drake was on the field for just one.
We have now established two things. Arian Foster’s effectiveness dwindled as the game went on, appearing to slowly transform from his former-self to the player many thought he would be this season (basically, old). Foster also was the Dolphins’ only running back trusted with consistent snaps.
Adam Gase does not like to rely on a single running back. He has always had a rotation of players that each provides different opportunities offensively. Not having Jay Ajayi was clearly an issue, as Gase was forced to rely on Foster, who wore down throughout the game.
Foster’s workload will become an issue as the season wears on if the team is not able to distribute carries to other ball carriers.
In other words, the Dolphins really need to make sure that Jay Ajayi is back in the fold.
While the coaching staff has clearly displayed a lack of confidence in Ajay (drafting Drake and signing Foster), he is still the undisputed second-best running back on the team.
His ability to push for extra yards provides contrast to Foster’s shiftier style, and would have helped the Dolphins greatly on Sunday.
In the first quarter, the Dolphins had an opportunity on 4th & 1 in Seattle territory. They elected to run the ball and handed it off to Foster.
The Seahawks stuffed him for no gain. The Dolphins ended up turning the ball over on downs.
While there is no guarantee that the result would have been different with Ajayi in the game, one thing is certain: Foster’s best use is not in short yardage.
Jay Ajayi is by no means a power running back. However, in situations such as the one Arian Foster was thrown into, he does provide a better chance at pushing the pile for a short gain.
Here is an example from the preseason:
Jay Ajayi is able to meet the defenders with enough power to force himself forward. He gains two yards by just managing to fall forward and fight through contact. This ability to get low and slam into defenders would serve the Dolphins well in these short situations.
The most useful place to implement Ajayi would simply be to give Arian Foster a break. The Dolphins know that they cannot use a 30-year old running back irresponsibly. If they want to get as many games out of Foster as they can, they realize that carries will have to be given to other running backs as well.
Jay Ajayi doesn’t stand a good chance of starting over a healthy Arian Foster. However, he would be able to take the carries that Miami was giving to Damien Williams and gain addition touches on plays that Foster uses for rest.
The Dolphins might be able to get by without Jay Ajayi, but for how long?
If Arian Foster goes down with an injury, the Dolphins would be left with Damien Williams and Kenyan Drake as their in-game replacements without Ajayi in the fold. Even Isaiah Pead would be a far less attractive alternative in the event of an injury.
Jay Ajayi’s absence on the Dolphins’ trip to Seattle was a surprise to everyone outside of the building in Davie. Even now, details are not fully known as to why he didn’t make the trip. Most believe that he had an unfavorable reaction to Foster being named the starter, and did not impress the coaching staff with his work ethic or attitude.
The best-case scenario for the Dolphins is that Jay Ajayi can move past whatever is holding him back. The team knows that they cannot rely on Arian Foster to play for 87% of their snaps every Sunday and expect him to be healthy for 16 games. The situation is a ticking time bomb, and when it explodes it will take the Dolphins’ running game with it.
Adam Gase has said that this is a new week for Jay Ajayi, and that he will have a chance to regain his position for Sunday’s game against the Patriots.
For the sake of the Dolphins’ offense, not only in Sunday’s game but also moving through the 2016 season, let’s hope that Ajayi is suited up in aqua against New England.