The Dolphins provided a heavy dose of Ajayi on Sunday and it paid major dividends in a 20-17 upset victory over the Atlanta Falcons. The Pro Bowl tailback rushed for a season-high 130 yards on 26 carries. Ajayi also averaged a season-high 5.0 yards per carry and took the pressure off Miami's often-criticized passing game.
Miami’s coaching staff provided a clear blueprint of running the ball to keep the Falcons’ explosive offense off the field. Even when the Dolphins trailed 17-0 at halftime, Miami stuck with its running game. That wore down Atlanta (3-2) and spurred a surprising comeback -- 20 unanswered points by the Dolphins.
“We’re in great shape, that helps, and we’re mentally tough,” Ajayi said. “We can figure out how to grind out games and finish them off. We’d definitely love to start faster. If we add in that component of starting fast and finishing strong, then we will be very, very special. I know that’s something we’re going to continue to work on.”
The Dolphins (3-2) are at their best offensively when rushing the football, dating to last season. Miami sputtered in recent weeks by getting too pass-heavy and relying on the arm of veteran quarterback Jay Cutler.
Ajayi had just 48 rushes for 139 yards (2.89 yards per carry) in the previous three games before facing the Falcons. By contrast, Cutler had 98 pass attempts and Miami’s offense scored 15 total points in that span.
DeVante Parker’s ankle injury forced Miami to simplify its game plan. Without their leading receiver, the Dolphins ran fewer three-receiver sets and more power sets involving two and three tight ends. That made it easier for Ajayi to run the ball against the Falcons.
“I think the whole offensive line did a good job," Dolphins coach Adam Gase said. "They put a big emphasis [last] week as a coaching staff on strain and finish. Making sure if they make a mistake, at least it is 100 miles per hour, just trying to find a crease to create for Jay.”
Ajayi still isn't making the longer runs this season, which is an area to work on. His longest rush against the Falcons on Sunday was for 18 yards, and Ajayi’s longest run of the season is for 20 yards.
Here are additional notes on the Dolphins:
Center Mike Pouncey is in concussion protocol this week, Gase confirmed. Pouncey left Sunday’s victory over the Falcons shortly before halftime and didn’t return to the game. Backup Jake Brendel replaced Pouncey and will be the starter Sunday if Pouncey cannot play against the New York Jets.
Three Dolphins -- safety Michael Thomas, receiver Kenny Stills and tight end Julius Thomas -- are among the group of NFL players scheduled to meet with commissioner Roger Goodell and the league office in New York on Tuesday. This week the NFL will discuss with players the protests during the national anthem and how to further address social issues.
Miami went for it on fourth down a season-high three times against the Falcons, converting twice. Gase said playing against the Falcons and their high-powered offense made him take a more aggressive approach with Miami's offense.