It’s easy to believe playoff success for the Miami Dolphins hinges mostly on Jay Ajayi.
If the running back is on his game and churning yards against the Pittsburgh Steelers like he did the last time the teams played -- a 204-yard performance -- then the Dolphins have a better chance to upset the home team.
If, however, Ajayi is stifled and the Miami running game doesn’t dominate, the narrative of the week states the Miami offense won’t be able to stay on the field as long. And that means the defense will be on the field longer. And that means the Dolphins will be in trouble.
So, yes, the focus of this game seems to be on Jay Ajayi.
But while Ajayi understands that kind of talk, he’d argue with anyone who thinks the Dolphins are all about, well, Jay Ajayi.
“I understand that the run game and my productivity is going to play a crucial part in how successful we are on Sunday,” Ajayi said Thursday. “At the same time, though, I’m very confident in all our players on offense. We have a 1,000-yard receiver in [Jarvis Landry], a guy who scored nine touchdowns in Kenny [Stills] and DeVante [Parker] can take it to the house on any play.
“And I feel real comfortable that we can spread the ball out and run the ball on anyone. And so I think we go into the game with that confidence and if we execute and handle all the details ... I think we’re going to have a good day.”
There’s more. It seems Ajayi has been hearing from the pundits. And the pundits, not to mention the oddsmakers, have made it clear they think the Steelers are the better team. The experts are saying the Steelers are the more talented team.
That apparently got Ajayi’s goat. And no one takes Ajayi’s goat, dang it.
“We hear a lot of talk about the other team and who they have and the players that they have,” Ajayi said. “And it’s kind of starting to get to me where you have to understand we have players too, you know?
“We have guys that are playing at a high level and are showcasing their abilities. And I think it’s time people need to respect that we have players on our offense, too, and we can get some stuff done when we’re on our game.”
Said another way, the Dolphins aren’t sitting around worried they’re overmatched or losing this game on paper when their talent is compared to the Pittsburgh talent.
Interestingly, the data suggests Ajayi has a point about his team not being completely reliant on him.
Yes, he had three 200-yard games this season including that one against the Steelers and the Dolphins won all those games. But in the regular season’s final 11 games, Ajayi failed to eclipse 100 rushing yards seven times. And the Dolphins had a 5-2 record in those games.
So while Sunday’s assignement would be easier if Ajayi goes off, winning and losing is not in fact all about him.
“No, it’s not all about me,” Ajayi said. “It’s a team thing. I know that when I’m productive, I know the team is going to be successful. But I feel that my play also allows other guys to make plays as well.”
It’s a symbiotic relationship between Ajayi and his teammates. He is better when the offensive line plays well. The receivers see looser coverages get when Ajayi is rolling. And if all things are working, the Dolphins have a good chance to win at Pittsburgh.
“I’m excited for the challenge this week, the opportunity that we have,” Ajayi said. “It’s a time for big players to step up and make big plays. I’m excited for the opportunity of the offense to really showcase what we can do.”