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Eagles readying Jay Ajayi for heavier workload

PHILADELPHIA -- Eagles running back Jay Ajayi was the only offensive starter inactive for Sunday's regular-season finale against the Dallas Cowboys, and he isn't expected to be full-go in practice on Wednesday, if he practices at all, according to coach Doug Pederson.

Asked what Ajayi's dealing with, Pederson said: "Nothing."

"As you know with his history, he's had the knee," he continued. "Just rest on that knee is all."

The 24-year-old back tore the ACL is his right knee in 2011 while playing for Boise State. Reports of cartilage issues -- Ajayi is said to have "bone on bone" in the knee -- impacted his draft stock. He was projected to go as high as the second round but fell to the Miami Dolphins in the fifth. The injury's continued impact was mentioned as a potential reason the Dolphins dealt him to Philadelphia for a fourth-round pick.

Ajayi's recent absence could be a cause for concern. But it can also be viewed as a sign the Eagles are preparing him for a heavier workload in the postseason.

They have been conservative in their use of Ajayi, even though he's averaged 5.8 yards per carry since coming over while looking like the team's most explosive back. Despite bursting onto the scene with a 46-yard touchdown run against the Denver Broncos days after being acquired from Miami, Ajayi carried the ball seven times on average over his first four games with the Eagles. He has experienced an uptick of late, averaging 14 rushes in his past three games. Pederson hinted those numbers could go up in the postseason.

"That's a possibility with what he's shown us down the stretch here and giving him rest last week, and we'll see where he is this week health-wise. I think he's one of the guys that we can rely on," said Pederson, adding he wants to keep backs LeGarrette Blount and Corey Clement involved. "I do think there could be a little more role for him down the stretch."

Pederson emphasized the need to reestablish a quality run game. The Eagles finished the season ranked third in rushing yards per game (132) but averaged 93 yards in the two full games Nick Foles played in following the injury to Carson Wentz, with an average of 3.9 yards per rush over that span compared to 4.5 over the entire season.

"I don't think we ever got away from [the run]. I just think our execution in the run game has been poor," Pederson said. "So we just have to get back to fine-tuning and showing our guys every look potentially front-wise and making sure we, as coaches, have everything covered. Then it's just a conscious effort to stay dedicated to the run game."

The loss of Wentz has only heightened the importance of a reliable ground game. Foles has struggled since his four-touchdown outing in Week 15 against the New York Giants, going 23-of-49 (47 percent) for 202 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions over his past five quarters.

Quarterback performance aside, Pederson believes a strong defense and ground game are the keys to postseason success.

"That's a formula. Especially now, outside, January-type games, the weather can be bad. I think you have to be able to do that and keep yourself on the field and keep your defense rested," he said. "But somewhere in there you're going to have to make a play in the passing game, too, whether it be on a third down or maybe a first-down shot or something like that. Not ruling out the passing game, obviously, but that run game we have to get back to the way we did it a couple weeks ago."

The top-seeded Eagles appear to be using this down time to get Ajayi and his knee as healthy as possible in hopes on leaning on him more starting in the divisional round of the playoffs.