Chargers-Texans takeaways: Austin Ekeler finally gets running

The Chargers went 2-2 up Sunday with a 34-24 win over Houston, a win that wasn’t secured until the final minutes of the game.

Some observations from a day in which they blew almost a 20-point lead before making just enough plays to return home as winners:

GROUND RETURN: They’ve still gained just 81 yards and averaged just three yards per carry, but the Chargers managed to run the ball 27 times, which coach Brandon Staley said helped the passing game.

“I loved our commitment to this,” Staley said. “I thought this really got our line into rhythm. … We didn’t get any big slivers today, but I thought we had a lot of productive runs.”

The Chargers started Sunday as the NFL’s worst team locally, averaging 59 yards per game and 2.6 yards per attempt.

Austin Ekeler finished with 13 carries for 60 yards, including two touchdowns. The second was for 20 yards, the Chargers’ longest streak this season.

After leading the NFL with 20 touchdowns a season ago, Ekeler went scoreless in three games. He then scored two goals in four games in the second quarter.

“Getting it running today was great,” Staley said. “I felt like he played like a captain. Aside from Austin’s performance on the field, I felt like he really led our football team on offense, he just played with the energy that he’s known for.”

JUMP START FROM DEFENSE: After their 10:38 loss last weekend, the Chargers needed a quick start, and Khalil Mack and Nasir Adderley made sure of that.

After getting the opening jab, Houston’s first possession ended when Mack pressed and eventually hit quarterback Davis Mills, who floated a pass to center field where Adderley was waiting to make his second career interception.

His 30-yard return set up the offensive at the Texans’ 25-yard line. Four games later, Justin Herbert met Gerald Everett for an 18-yard score after just three minutes.

“It was great because we went down there and scored a goal,” said safety Derwin James Jr. of Adderley’s pickoff. “When he made that play, it was like we got the ball first.”

Offensive gets off track: After dominating the first two quarters, the Chargers’ offense fell silent, betting on their first three possessions in the second half. Those streaks totaled four first downs and 57 yards. One of the rides ended because of a drop from Everett.

Staley said the offense was “a little bit off schedule, out of rhythm.”

“We definitely didn’t reach the level that we would have liked,” Everett said. “The win is a stroke of luck. But we are definitely aiming higher.”

The Chargers were able to rediscover what they had lost with a game-safety drive just in time.

Mike Williams played a significant role throughout. With Pro Bowl wide receiver Keenan Allen missing his third game with a hamstring injury, Williams finished with seven catches for 120 yards.

Chargers receiver Mike Williams runs after catching a pass against the Houston Texans in the first half.

Chargers receiver Mike Williams runs in open field after catching a pass against the Houston Texans in the first half. Williams had seven catches for 120 yards.

(David J Phillip / Associated Press)

REDISCOVER YOUR BIG PLAY GROOVE: The Chargers were one of the NFL’s least explosive offenses in the first three weeks of the season. On Sunday, they produced seven plays gaining at least 20 yards.

The longest was a 50-yard shot from Herbert to Williams. As of the start of the 2020 season, this duo has had a league-best 12 hauls with at least 40 yards.

“You have to have them in the NFL,” Staley said of such explosive moments. “It’s all about this. … You have to be able to do that to throw on the street for 340. So it was a team effort and a very good performance by our guys.”

DEFENSE REVIEW: The Chargers have sacked Mills four times — Mack, Morgan Fox, Sebastian Joseph-Day and Jerry Tillery all grounded him. Seven Chargers were credited with meeting Mills at least once.

They also intercepted his passes twice, with slot corner Bryce Callahan getting the second.

The Chargers handed rookie Dameon Pierce a 75-yard touchdown run when Chris Rumph II failed to set the edge, James was blocked and Adderley took a wrong angle.

They also gave up a 58-yard mills finish to Nico Collins, who came in behind Adderley and cornerback JC Jackson.

MO’ BANDY?: The Chargers lost wide receiver Joshua Palmer for a while midgame, opening up a chance for Michael Bandy. In just his second NFL appearance, Bandy caught two passes for 49 yards.

Both receptions came during a late first-half drive, which helped position the Chargers for Dustin Hopkins’ 37-yard field goal in the last game of the second quarter.

“Mike was ready,” Staley said. “He stayed ready. Very sovereign there in the two-minute drill at the end of the half. … He does what he always does. He is commissioned sound. He’s a reliable target. He has a really good feeling.”

Bandy was lifted from the practice team on Saturday. His only previous NFL game was also in Houston in week 16 of last season.

Palmer eventually returned to the game after dealing with what Staley called a foot problem.

IN HIS OWN WORDS: James on the Chargers’ offense, which sealed the win late in the fourth quarter with an 84-yard, 12-play touchdown drive: “It’s amazing when you can just drink water, drink Gatorade and watch your brothers chop them up. … It’s an incredible feeling.” Chargers-Texans takeaways: Austin Ekeler finally gets running

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