Cardinals' run defense has fierce challenge in Jay Ajayi

TEMPE, Ariz. -- One of the best matchups within Sunday's Arizona Cardinals-Miami Dolphins meeting will be the Cards' run defense trying to slow one of the most productive running backs in the game, Jay Ajayi.

Ajayi is ranked seventh in rushing; the Cardinals have the NFL's No. 2 defense.

"He's playing lights out," coach Bruce Arians said of Ajayi. "[Dolphins offensive coordinator] Clyde [Christensen] is doing a heck of a job with him and the quarterback is a threat to run every time, so you have to handle the zone-read stuff but he can still throw the football down the field."

While the Cardinals' defense will be busy with Ajayi, their offensive line will be consumed with stopping Miami tackle Ndamukong Suh and fellow defenders Cameron Wake and Mario Williams, among others.

Here are six Dolphins to watch, courtesy of ESPN Dolphins reporter James Walker:


RB Jay Ajayi: Looking for a good matchup? Look no further than Ajayi against a Cardinals run defense allowing 3.8 yards per carry, good for fifth in the league. Ajayi is having a breakout year and is just 92 rushing yards shy of his first 1,000-yard season. He’s the only NFL player with a pair of 200-yard rushing games this season, but lately opponents have made Ajayi their primary focus. Ajayi has now gone four consecutive games with fewer than 100 yards rushing.

WR DeVante Parker: The second-year receiver surprised most people last week by playing through a back injury against the Ravens. Parker missed practice the entire week and gutted it out on Sunday. He scored Miami’s only touchdown. Another week to get healthy should help Parker. He is Miami’s best deep threat and a big X factor for the Dolphins’ offense. Parker has two touchdown receptions in the past three games.

TE Dion Sims: Miami’s fourth-year tight end has quietly become one of the favorites of the coaching staff. Sims has a Daniel Fells-type role in Miami’s offense. Sims is a good in-line blocker but also a better pass-catcher than he gets credit for. He’s averaging 13.1 yards per reception in his past two games.


DT Ndamukong Suh: If Miami has any chance to stuffing Cardinals star running back David Johnson, Suh must have a big game wreaking havoc in the middle. Suh is having his best season with the Dolphins. He is third on the team with 53 tackles and second with five sacks. Those are impressive numbers for a defensive tackle who faces plenty of double-teams. Expect more of the same treatment from Arizona.

MLB Kiko Alonso: It remains to be seen if the Dolphins are without Alonso on Sunday. He’s easily been the team’s best linebacker and leads Miami with 97 tackles. But Alonso broke his right thumb against the Ravens and had surgery the following day. If Alonso can’t go, inexperienced linebacker Mike Hull is projected to start in his place.

S Isa Abdul-Quddus: Why is Abdul-Quddus important this week? He is Miami’s last line of defense, and the Cardinals like to throw it deep, early and often. Quddus has been mostly solid on the back end this year and must stay discipline against Arizona. The Cardinals’ best chance to beat Miami is to get explosive plays on offense and force the Dolphins to play from behind.