Tomlin Says Ajayi’s Week 6 Performance Against Steelers Was No ‘Lightning Strike’

Sunday at Heinz Field we’ll see a rematch of the Week 6 game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Miami Dolphins as the two teams will face-off in an AFC Wild Card game. The Dolphins beat the Steelers 30-15 in that early October game that featured Miami running back Jay Ajayi rushing for 204 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries. On Tuesday, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin previewed the upcoming playoff game against the Dolphins during his weekly press conference and made sure to highlight how the Miami running game contributed heavily in their win over Pittsburgh earlier in the season.

“What’s on video is the last time we saw these guys, they flat out got after us,” Tomlin said. “Their run game was significant in terms of how the game unfolded. We weren’t able to tackle their runner. Their offensive line won the line of scrimmage and won it consistently, whether it was an interior run or a perimeter run. We are not going to pretend like the 200-yard day was a lightning strike. No, it was very real. I don’t think it’s appropriate to take that approach.

“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. 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.”

As Tomlin mentioned, Ajayi, who entered that Week 6 game against the Steelers with just 117 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 31 carries, has since proven that his performance against Pittsburgh wasn’t a fluke. The Boise State product went on to finish the 2016 regular season with 1,272 yards rushing and 8 touchdowns in addition to catching 27 passes for another 151 yards.

“He’s got a sturdy body,” Tomlin said Tuesday when asked what it is that allows Ajayi to break so many tackles. “He’s got a great pad level; his shoulders are almost always rolled forward. He plays with a good, natural base, which allows him to have great contact balance and bounce off of would-be tacklers. He utilizes his off hand very well, whether it’s stiff-arms or warding off tacklers. He’s just a very, very solid back in that way. A guy that’s built for combat.”

Ajayi certainly made a lot of Steelers defensive players miss tackles in that Week 6 meeting and especially their cornerbacks. On Tuesday, Tomlin was asked what the Steelers cornerbacks need to do this time around to ensure that doesn’t happen again on Sunday at Heinz Field. Tomlin had the perfect response.

“Boy, if you’re talking about corners as your first line of defense in terms of stopping the run, that’s a bad discussion,” Tomlin said. “There are some bigger people more suited for that action that play in front of them that better have a lot to say about it as well. But when given an opportunity, we expect these guys to be professional and do what we expect them to do, which is be functional, solid tacklers. In a lot of ways, some of those things have been addressed just by improving over the course of the journey. I’ve got to acknowledge that a guy like Artie Burns is a much better fundamental tackler now than he was when we played those guys, but I’m not going to seek comfort in that.”

One thing that Tomlin should seek comfort in is the fact that safety Sean Davis and linebacker Ryan Shazier both failed to play any defensive snaps in that Week 6 loss to the Dolphins. Davis was active for that game but only played on special teams while Shazier was inactive due to a knee injury. Additionally, outside linebacker Bud Dupree was still on the team’s Reserve/Injured list at that time and fellow outside linebacker James Harrison still wasn’t the full-time starter on the right side as he was splitting playing time with outside linebacker Jarvis Jones.

The Dolphins will likely lean on Ajayi once again in their rematch against the Steelers but it’s worth noting that they’ll be without their starting center Mike Pouncey as he’s out for the season due to a hip injury. Starting now in his place is Kraig Urbik, who was originally drafted by the Steelers several years ago.

Should Ajayi ultimately have the same level of success on Sunday against the Steelers as he did back in Week 6, it will more than likely result in Pittsburgh being eliminated from the playoffs. Lightning strike or not, the Steelers defense must limit Ajayi’s rushing yards on Sunday.

  • DirtDawg1964

    What moron media person asked what the secondary needs to do to stop the run? Hello! If the opposing RB is in your secondary, you have not stopped the run.

    To stop the run your d-line has to fill their gaps and chew up the blockers. That frees the LBs to fire into the line to stop the RB.

    Better tackling by the secondary turns a 200 yard day into a 150 yard one. Better play by the front seven turns a 200 yard day into a 75 yard one.

  • Douglas Andrews

    Pretty straight forward for this game. Stop the run and we win the game. Steelers keep Ajayi to 100 yards or less they win by 10. I believe in Coach Mitch!

  • The Truth

    With Jones out and Harrison in it should be much better.

  • Big White

    That is a very good line a mix of youth and experience. James, the kid out of Tennesee has quietly been pretty good and that has allowed them to put Tunsil at guard.

  • steeltown

    Is it just me or does that picture have 3 current non-starters in it…

  • sixnine

    notice the tacklers in that picture.J.J, Dirty Red, Golden and Cockrell….its says alot about how we were not at full strenght for that game.

  • Josh Gustad

    I have no problem with us being the favorite. I do have a problem with people thinking this is a guarantee victory. Whether Tannehill is playing or not, this team can pound the rock as good as any. I also think it is fair to mention that Ajayi is the real deal. STROOONG runner with decent burst.

  • nutty32

    Miami looked super flat last Sunday. Like they knew they couldn’t beat the Patriots. Hope that carries over to next Sunday. We need to keep them down from the get go and not give them any life or hope.

  • Xclewsive

    What was wrong with the run defense that day is shown the the pic above.

  • SkoolHouseRoxx

    I think ppl shouldn’t overlook their receivers. Landry, Parker, and Stills are more than capable of wrecking a secondary. With that being said I hope they all are on their A game because we’ll bring ours!

  • dany

    Didn’t know Pouncey was out, that sucks for them. And for Maurkice, to play against his bro in the playoffs

    good for the steeelers though!

  • Petherson Silveira

    The problem we had that game was loose the contain repetedly against their outside zone run.

  • When I hear lighting strike I think of Ryan Shazier knifing into the back field. It will happen more than once

  • Nwall2

    We are getting a lot of weapons back for this game compared to last. So much more speed on the field with Shazier, Bud, and Davis. Our dline still scares me. The Dolphins Oline is very good now that they are healthy.

  • Jason

    He just needs to make the tackle when he does.

  • correct

  • francesco

    Matt Moore scares me if he is on his game.

  • Ken Krampert

    Not to mention the flagrant jersey grab on Matakevich on the long run. He would have cut Ajayi off, but probably would have gotten run over. May have slowed him down though….

  • Ken Krampert

    Shady McCoy and the top ranked Buffalo running game was supposed to gouge us and look what happened. We will have Shazier, Silverback full time, Sean Davis who has been really good against the run recently, Dupree and better depth/experience on the dline. We will be ready to stop the run. The big question is stopping big plays , getting off the field on 3rd down and minimizing penalties. Also, ST not losing the game. If we don’t beat ourselves, we win this one by 10.

  • justafanlikeyou

    I believe this is a totally different team from that 1st meeting, on both sides of the ball.
    IIRC that was the game Heyward was injured. The team really had no idea how to replace his presence. That has significantly changed with guys getting more playing time and a better understanding of their job. The DBs have also improved tremendously in their undestanding of fit in the defense. Add in the fact that Shazier and Dupree will both be suited up and this is a different defense.
    Offensively IIRC Coates had suffered his injury around that time and became a non-factor. AB was the only receiver they needed to worry about. Since then some of the younger guys have started to step up and LaDarius has made an impact (I really hope he is able to go because he demands a safety stay home in the middle of the field). Again, a different team than the one who previously played the dolphins.

    While the Steelers are getting relatively healthy the dolphins have been going the opposite direction. Pouncey has drastically affected the potency of their running attack and on D they are down to , I believe, their 3rd string safeties.

  • Jim Foles

    on his feet.

  • Steve

    The playing surface in Miami was terrible, with players slipping all over the place.

  • SilverSteel

    If Moore scares you, what the heck are we to do with a Brady?

  • francesco

    Let’s not get ahead of ourselves! One matter at a time. Mobile quarterbacks worry me more often than not.
    Just look at what RG3 was able to do with a lesser team in Cleveland.
    But obviously stopping Ajayi is the primary key to winning this game.

  • SilverSteel

    Yeah, I keep thinking that we beat everyone already and are headed to Foxborough! 🙂