Super Bowl X-factor? It's as easy as A-B-C
The X-factor in Super Bowl LII could be more accurately described as the A-B-C factor — as in Ajayi, Blount and Clement.
The Philadelphia Eagles running back trio of Jay Ajayi, LeGarrette Blount and rookie Corey Clement will have to be productive Sunday for Philly to upset the New England Patriots.
Blount led the Eagles with 766 rushing yards and scored twice during the regular season. Ajayi had 408 rushing yards and a score in seven games after his midseason trade from the Miami Dolphins and Clement had 321 rushing yards during the regular season with a team-high four rushing touchdowns.
The trio have kept it up in the playoffs. Ajayi has 127 rushing yards in two games. Blount has just 40 yards but both of Philadelphia's rushing touchdowns. Clement has run for only 25 yards this postseason, but he and Ajayi both have six receptions.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick knows third downs will be "a huge key to the game." He praised the Eagles backs during Monday's media night and said Philadelphia's diverse offense makes the Eagles difficult to defend.
Ajayi, despite a sore ankle, is expected to get the bulk of the carries on Sunday, but Blount will be the short-yardage back.
"They both run hard, man," Patriots safety Patrick Chung said of Blount and Ajayi. "LeGarrette jumps over people. Jay — he runs hard. He stiff-arms people, breaks tackles. They're both very elusive and big backs so they can do a lot of things."
Then there is Clement, the undrafted rookie from Wisconsin who has become a dangerous third-down back. Four of his nine postseason touches have been on third down. Six of his nine touches have resulted in first downs.
Though Clement had just 10 receptions this season, they went for 123 yards and two touchdowns. Having seen little-used Jaguars running back Corey Grant torch the Patriots in the first half of the AFC Championship Game, Eagles coach Doug Pederson will likely try to get Clement the ball in space against the Patriots linebackers.
Clement could wind up being a Super Bowl hero just as former Wisconsin running back James White was for the Patriots last year.
White caught a career-high 14 passes for 110 yards and scored the winning touchdown in the Patriots' incredible comeback victory over the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI. If the Eagles running backs maintain the form they have displayed this season, there is every chance Clement could replicate that impact and deny New England a sixth title.