After allowing Miami Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi to run for 204 yards back in Week 6, the Pittsburgh Steelers were bound and determined to not let that happen again during the AFC Wild Card game at Heinz Field.
“He [Ajayi] ran for 200 yards twice against the Buffalo Bills this year, so there’s tangible evidence that we need to respect this preparation process,” Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said during this past Tuesday’s press conference. “We need to have an understanding that what occurred the last time we played these guys was by no means a lightning strike. We’ve got a big-time work week in front of us in terms of minimizing the impact of their quality run game and their featured runner.”
That determination by the Steelers defense wound up being successful as Ajayi only managed to rush for 33 yards on his 16 carries on Sunday with his longest run being just 8 yards.
“We needed to stop the run against these guys,” Tomlin said after his team’s 30-12 Sunday win over the Dolphins.
At the start of Sunday’s game, it was evident that Ajayi might be in for a long day as his first three rushing attempts during the Dolphins first two offensive possession netted a loss of three yards. By halftime, the Steelers defense had held Ajayi to just 20 yards rushing on 9 carries with his longest run of 8 yards coming on a 1st and 25 play with 7:05 left in the second quarter.
“The run game was tough,” Ajayi said when he talked to the media after the game. “They stacked the box and we did not execute how we should have. It’s as simple as that.”
When Ajayi rushed for over 200 yards against the Steelers defense back in October he did so against a unit that was without the services of linebackers Ryan Shazier and Bud Dupree in addition to rookie safety Sean Davis. All three of those Steelers defenders played on Sunday and Ajayi wasn’t able to provide any lightning strikes on the ground.
It should also be noted that veteran linebacker James Harrison only played roughly half the snaps against the Dolphins in the first meeting between the teams. Harrison, who has since become the full-time starter at right outside linebacker, did a great job Sunday of not allowing Ajayi to gash the Steelers outside the tackles to his side like he did back in October. Harrison finished Sunday’s game with 10 total tackles with half of them coming against the run.
The Dolphins lack of a running game really hurt their offense as did the fact that they trailed the Steelers on the scoreboard right from start. It resulted in quarterback Matt Moore having to throw the football a total of 36 times. While Moore did complete 29 of his pass attempts for 289 yards on Sunday, he was also sacked five times by the Steelers defense and fumbled away the football on two of them.
“They had too much penetration where we couldn’t get anything going in the running game,” Dolphins head coach Adam Gase said after the game during press conference with the media.
The Steelers defense will now get ready to face a Kansas City Chiefs offense that averaged 109.3 yards per game rushing during the regular season. When the Steelers beat the Chiefs at Heinz Field back in Week 4, their defense surrendered 87 net rushing yards with 46 of them coming late in the fourth quarter on a run by Kansas City running back Spence Ware.