Jay Ajayi was by far the most effective back against Atlanta this season, rushing for 130 yards on 26 carries in Week 6 while still with the Miami Dolphins. That's 54 yards more than anyone else logged against the Falcons' defense (Buffalo's LeSean McCoy, New England's Dion Lewis and Minnesota's Latavius Murray each ran for 76 yards against the Falcons).
"We knew we were going against a good defense. Just attack them with the run game, stay with it all game," Ajayi said when asked why he was so successful in that game.
That same approach worked well for the Eagles against the Falcons in November, when they ran 38 times for 208 yards and held possession for more than 38 minutes in a 24-15 win. It proved to be the lowest-scoring output of the season for a Super-Bowl bound Atlanta squad that led the league in points per game (33.8).
Given this recent history, it would be no surprise if the Eagles try to establish a ground-heavy attack once again, especially with backup quarterback Nick Foles under center instead of the injured Carson Wentz.
Ajayi is cranking up the engine just in case.
"I've taken many carries before in my career, so it's not something that I'm not used to," he said. "I'll be ready this Saturday for whatever we need to do."
The most engaging and jovial he has been with the media (by a mile) since being acquired by Philadelphia at the trade deadline, Ajayi shared the story behind his J-Train nickname Wednesday afternoon. It started when he was a redshirt sophomore at Boise State. He was jealous his teammate and friend DeMarcus Lawrence, now a standout defensive end with the Dallas Cowboys, had a sack celebration that was imitated in the stands and got the home crowd fired up.
People tried to give Ajayi the moniker Bull because of his Texas roots (he was born in London but attended high school in Texas), but he wasn't feeling it. When he came across an edited image of himself blended with a train, that was all she wrote. It even gave him the simple touchdown celebration he needed: a pull of the conductor's whistle.
"It just kind of became my persona on the field, where I'm kind of a nice guy off the field, real chill. When I'm on the field, I can turn into the J-Train and become kind of violent," he said. "That's kind of where I can go with that persona, use it to just be physical, be a dog on the field and use all those emotions to run and make plays for the team."
Ajayi ranks second in yards after first contact per rush (2.35) over the past two seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He averaged 5.8 yards per rush overall with the Eagles in 2017, the second-best mark among running backs since Week 9, when he joined the team (Alvin Kamara, 6.2). Even with that level of effectiveness, coach Doug Pederson has been conservative with Ajayi's playing time, in part so he'd be fresh for postseason play.
Now that it's here, it's a pretty good bet that Ajayi's touches will go up, especially against an Atlanta team that he has already gashed this season.
"I just know that we've got a good plan going into this week. We're working really hard in practice, and the coaches have kind of let us know what the plan is going to be this weekend," Ajayi said. "I just know whenever my number is called on Saturday, how many times it's going to be called, I'm going to be ready, and my hair is going to be on fire. I'm just going to be out there leaving it all on the line."