At the bye, the Eagles are atop the NFL | Early Birds
Jay Ajayi showed what he can do on Sunday. His role will only grow going forward
Good morning, Eagles fans. You'll have two weeks to enjoy the Eagles' 51-23 win over the Denver Broncos because the Birds are off next weekend. At 8-1, the Eagles will have the best record in the NFL the entire time; they have at least two more wins than any other team in the league. This is a Monday edition of Early Birds, which now comes to you five days a week. It's free to sign up here to receive it in your inbox every weekday. I want to know what you think, what we should add, and what you want to read, so send me feedback by email or on Twitter @ZBerm. Thank you for reading.
— Zach Berman
Time to get aboard the ‘Jay Train’
Get used to seeing Jay Ajayi accelerating through a hole or powering through a tackler. You saw it eight times on Sunday, and you're going to see it more each week from him.
His 46-yard touchdown run in the second quarter was the highlight, but the 14-yard rush on the previous play was also impressive. He burst through the hole, stuck his head down, broke two tackles, and dragged a third defender. When the Eagles acquired Ajayi he was described as "violent." That play showed what Doug Pederson meant. On the touchdown run, you saw Ajayi run a form of his favorite play design. The offensive line did a superb job blocking, and Ajayi knew where to go. On those two plays you saw a player with power and acceleration. That's the combination the Eagles craved. (For more on Ajayi's debut, check out Mike Sielski's column.)
The Eagles didn't acquire Ajayi to be a part-time running back. And watching what he did in limited duty on Sunday, it's clear they should give him a bigger role as soon as possible. As explained in this Sunday Inquirer story, the Eagles didn't want to overstate Ajayi's arrival because the front office didn't want the running backs to think they were viewed as a problem, and the coaching staff didn't want to disrupt team chemistry. But players can see talent, and it'll be hard to keep Ajayi off the field. He learned 10-15 plays last week, but he'll now have two weeks before the next game.
"We'll just keep increasing his workload as we go," Pederson said.
That doesn't mean the other running backs will be marginalized. LeGarrette Blount and Corey Clement will remain a part of the offense. Kenjon Barner's biggest contributions will come in the return game. Barring injury, it looks like Wendell Smallwood will be the odd man out. Sunday showed where they're going.
But it's a good problem when a team is figuring out how to distribute carries behind a lead running back. It's harder when a team goes into a game without a lead running back. Ajayi's nickname is the "Jay Train," and he wears a necklace with a train medallion. It's time to get aboard, because the Eagles will ride him.
What you need to know about the Eagles
The Eagles played their best game of the season in a 51-23 win over the Broncos. What, exactly, is going on here? Bob Ford asked and answered that question.
It's time to give Doug Pederson credit for his play-calling. Jeff McLane examined what clicked on Sunday. Pederson needed to adjust when Zach Ertz was inactive. The Eagles still featured tight ends Brent Celek and Trey Burton, Les Bowen writes.
The Lane Johnson-Von Miller match-up received much attention going into the game. Johnson won, Paul Domowitch writes.
The Eagles entered the game with the No. 1 rushing defense. The Broncos were No. 2. It was clear which was better, as David Murphy explained in his column.
Jay Ajayi couldn't have asked for a better Eagles debut, Mike Sielski writes.
There's much in these notes, including Corey Clement's big day, Alshon Jeffery playing like a No. 1 wide receiver, and more.
Who's up and who's down? McLane gives his opinion. Domo grades the Eagles.
Sielski offered five observations when the game ended.
3 Questions With | Running back Corey Clement
Zach Berman: How big of a leap have you taken since Week 1?
Corey Clement: "Just taking the leaps as the weeks have gone on. Not like I've made big jumps, but you're either getting better or getting worse. Collectively, as a group, we're making a statement as to who's getting better and who's not. Every day in practice, guys are just flying around. And when you see that, you fly around. So just the positive energy everyone has is making this 8-1 victory that much better."
Zach Berman: How do you interpret it that they're playing you on third downs?
Corey Clement: "It just shows trust. At the end of the day, that's what it comes down to. If they didn't put me [in], it shows they probably didn't think I was ready for that moment. As the weeks go on, I don't take it personal. When I'm in it, I've got to make the most of it. I've got to do the best I can to make sure Carson [Wentz] doesn't get sacked, hit. And just making sure we stay on the field."
Zach Berman: Three touchdowns in a game as an undrafted rookie — does it feel like it's really happening to you?
Corey Clement: "Yeah, it feels real. As a running back, you want to keep it going. You want to get four, you want to get five. I just had it in my mind. I told myself, I'm getting three. Because we didn't even the start the third quarter yet, I said if we get down in this red zone, I've got to get it in. And it happened. I've got to thank the O-line. Those guys really made holes out there. With the way the Broncos were playing, it was hard to see the scheme they were doing. But offensive line picked it up and did a great job."
Elsewhere in the NFL
There's excitement in Philadelphia, but it was a "new low" in Denver. [Denver Post]
Tony Romo was in the house to see Dak Prescott star in a win over Kansas City. [Fort Worth Star-Telegram]
Washington won a thriller in Seattle. [Washington Post]
The Giants' season is getting more embarrassing. [New York Daily News]
Did the Dolphins repeat past mistakes by trading Jay Ajayi? [Miami Herald]
From the mailbag
I don't think the bye week will be a problem, but I do think the schedule gets more difficult after the bye. Three of the next four games are on the road against Dallas, Seattle, and the Los Angeles Rams. Those teas are a combined 16-8. And all three have hot quarterbacks. So I think that will be more of an issue than the bye week disrupting momentum. In fact, I think it comes at a good time because key players such as Ronald Darby and Zach Ertz will be healthier, and Jay Ajayi will have time to learn the offense.
I'd say 13-3 or 12-4. This is a tough-minded team with outstanding quarterback play. You need to give them a chance in every game. I think they win the games in which they'll be heavy favorites — Chicago at home, Giants on the road — but those three upcoming road games will be difficult. I think they lose one of those games, and it's conceivable that they lose two of them. They should beat Oakland on Christmas night, although David Carr is a good quarterback. The Week 17 game against Dallas could be meaningless for the Eagles if they win enough games before then, so that's a wild card. Like with Dallas last season, you don't know whether the starters play that day.
It will likely go back to what the original plan was in Week 1. So Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills will be the starters on the outside and Patrick Robinson plays the slot. Robinson would see fewer snaps if he's no longer on the outside. Rasul Douglas, Jaylen Watkins, and Dexter McDougle will be depth players. Of course, it all depends how Darby looks when he returns.