LONDON — Miami Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi said this week: “I’ve put a lot of pressure on myself to be successful.” And so thank you to Ajayi, who may be the first NFL player in a while to admit to feeling pressure.
The Dolphins’ season would be crushed with a loss to the Saints on Sunday at Wembley. Miami would fall to 1-2 and we all recall how the team recovered from 1-4 last season.
But a 2-1 start would make the long flight home a lot more pleasant view of an unfortunate three-game road swing to open the season at Los Angeles, New York and London.
(Unfortunate not because they’re not great cities, but because that sure is a ton a travel in a small timeframe.)
Which Dolphins may be feeling some extra tension or anxiety on Sunday?
• Lawrence Timmons, linebacker — Dolphins players said it wasn’t necessary for Timmons to stand before the entire team and explain why he disappeared right before the season opener at Los Angeles. But Timmons, who seemed very humbled in a brief interaction on Friday, can surely show his teammates why they should be glad he’s back after only a one-game suspension. Nothing against undrafted free agents Mike Hull and Chase Allen, but Timmons is a wily veteran with the ability to change a game on a run blitz or sack/fumble on a quarterback. Timmons can also run and cover fairly well, which is an area Miami’s linebackers need to improve in.
• Jay Ajayi, running back — Well, as we mentioned earlier, Ajayi made this easy for us by acknowledging the pressure he feels to play in his hometown, before 40 friends and family, including his parents and three siblings who have never been to London. It was in no way Ajayi’s fault that he could not gain any traction against the Jets last week. Ajayi has missed practice time with knee soreness. Ajayi had a very busy week, launching a clothing brand and a cap collection in London. The Saints are very bad against the pass but also bad against the run so there should Ajayi should have a chance at 100 yards.
• Byron Maxwell, cornerback — Perhaps Maxwell will be lined up opposite Saints wide receiver Brandon Coleman. This would be a better matchup for him than sophomore stud Michael Thomas, who is one of the Saints’ best players. Will Maxwell play tighter coverage this week? Will be he play press more? Will he be more aggressive? Is Maxwell in any danger of losing reps to Alterraun Verner? When the Patriots played the Saints, they often rolled a safety toward Thomas. He’s the type of player who warrants such attention.
• Jay Cutler, quarterback — Of course the quarterback could go on this list every week. But after a subpar outing against the Jets last week, it would be helpful for Cutler to show more of what he’s capable of. Cutler looked a bit rusty and even skittish at times when his offensive line was not up to the task. Cutler’s rhythm and timing was off. It probably didn’t help that Ajayi, Jarvis Landry and DeVante Parker all missed practice time with injury. This week it probably doesn’t help that Kenny Stills didn’t catch too many passes due to a hand injury. Stills wants to play well against his former club. Look for Cutler to target Landry a bunch underneath, as he did in the season opener, especially if weather is poor.
• Julius Thomas, tight end — Is this the week Thomas shows why Gase endorsed bringing him over from the Jaguars? Thomas hasn’t had an impact the first two weeks and didn’t show much in preseason or training camp. Cutler and Gase have a lot of mouths to feed and it’s easy to wonder if Thomas will ever be a primary target for either of them. But Thomas must show that he is a capable receiving threat at least occasionally in the middle of the field and in the red zone. Or he’ll find himself on the bench in favor of somebody like Anthony Fasano, a superior blocker.