Jets' defense out to slow Dolphins' Ajayi
Jay Ajayi began the season as an afterthought and was a healthy inactive for the Miami Dolphins' opening game.
He is now attempting to become the first NFL running back to rush for 200 yards in three consecutive games.
Ajayi's stunning emergence is energizing the Dolphins (3-4) as they come off a bye and attempt to record their third consecutive victory when they host the New York Jets on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, CBS).
The second-year player from Boise State rushed for 204 yards against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Oct. 16 and followed up with a 214-yard effort against the Buffalo Bills seven days later. That made Ajayi just the fourth player to rush for 200 or more yards in back-to-back games, joining O.J. Simpson (1973 and 1976), Earl Campbell (1980) and former Miami star Ricky Williams (2002).
A third straight 200-yard outing would be quite the feat — considering the Jets (3-5) lead the NFL in rushing defense at 74.0 yards per game.
“I know in the NFL it's hard to get 100 yards,” Ajayi said. “So for us to have done back-to-back 200-yard games is a credit to the hard work we have put in, the O-line, receivers, everyone including myself.
“And so if it does happen again, that's going to be an amazing thing, an incredible thing, and we'll just see what happens.”
Something surely has to give on Sunday. Ajayi sports a spectacular 6.4-yard average per carry heading into a game against a unit allowing just a 3.3 yard average.
“We're playing a good team,” Ajayi said. “The Jets got a really good front up there, the defensive line and their linebackers. We know we're going to have a really good challenge in front of us, but at the same time, we're not worried about anybody else. We're worried about ourselves.”
The Jets are certainly only worried about themselves too heading into the contest against their AFC East rivals. New York is seeking its third straight victory as it tries to dig out of a 1-5 start.
The squad had higher aspirations, and being two games below .500 at the midway point of the season is thoroughly disappointing to veteran linebacker David Harris.
“Obviously nobody thought we'd be at this 3-5 mark,” Harris said. “But guys keep fighting, we're still playing hard, and we're still going to grind this thing out to the end.”
Turnovers plagued the Jets during their first six games, and they still rank last in turnover margin at minus-9.
Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has been intercepted 11 times but avoided the key miscue last Sunday in a 31-28 win over the Cleveland Browns.
Veteran running back Matt Forte helped fuel the victory by rushing for 82 yards and two scores. Forte has 542 yards and six touchdowns in his first season with the Jets after leaving the Chicago Bears as a free agent.
His offensive coordinator with the Bears last season was Adam Gase, the first-year head coach of the Dolphins.
“I don't even know if elite pro is the right word,” Gase said of Forte. “It's something that I've very rarely experienced with a player. Just watching what he did from the first time I was around him to the last day I was with him, that guy is a stud, man. I can't express how much I appreciated the way that that guy prepared, the way he practiced.
“We tried to hold him back, and he didn't care what we thought. He was like, 'I'm getting my reps. You can yell at me all you want for being in there.' He didn't care. I mean, that guy, he was a workhorse. He's a guy that if you're around him just one year, you benefited from it.”
While the Jets have excelled at stuffing ball carries, they aren't so proficient against the pass. Cornerback Darrelle Revis, 31, is slipping and was beaten repeatedly by Cleveland receivers last Sunday.
Jets coach Todd Bowles insisted Revis is healthy when pressed regarding the veteran's drop-off in play.
“Other than maintenance, I don't think (he is hurt) any more than anybody else,” Bowles said. “We don't play injured players, and we don't encourage them to play. We try not to. All we can go by is how they tell us they feel, and Revis has been fine for the most part. He had a sore ankle here and there, but I think he's been OK.”
New York is last in the NFL in pass defense, allowing 289 yards per game, and that could present opportunities for Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who has thrown for 1,728 yards and seven touchdowns against seven interceptions.