Why can Chargers suddenly run again? Austin Ekeler explains

Facing a mid-range run defense on Sunday, the Chargers blasted the Cleveland front en route to a 238-yard accumulation on the ground.

That was the franchise’s most prolific single-game rushing performance since Week 6 of the 2018 season.

On Monday, the Chargers face another mid-of-the-pack running defense, Denver — on average — at a yard less per game than the Browns last weekend.

The similarities don’t guarantee anything in terms of production, of course, but it can be reported as a fact that the Chargers are feeling better game-wise as their Week 6 prime-time matchup nears.

“It was a team effort,” said coach Brandon Staley. “It starts with this premise. It takes a team effort to play like that. It’s not just the O line. It’s their trainers. It’s the skill players around them. It’s the protection plan, the run-game plan.”

The Chargers were the worst rushing team in the NFL for the first four weeks of the season. They averaged 64.5 yards in length. Against Cleveland, Austin Ekeler gained more than that total — 71 yards — in one game.

They rose to 22nd from 32nd in the league, despite Pro Bowl leaving Rashawn Slater on the injured reserve list after undergoing surgery on his biceps.

Against the Browns, Slater’s backup, rookie Jamaree Salyer, had a performance that Pro Football Focus rated as similar to his starting debut a week earlier in Houston — a performance that was praised by observers across the league.

Left guard Matt Feiler had his best game of the season on Sunday, while center Corey Linsley and right tackle Trey Pipkins III had their second-best games of 2022, according to PFF run-blocking data.

“Things take time,” Staley said. “For us at the very beginning of the season it took a while for these guys to play together to get into a rhythm together. But you’ve seen us play really good football over the past few weeks.”

Ekeler finished with a career-high 173 rushing yards in just 16 carries. He suggested the success restored his confidence after keeping the first month of the season in check.

After a 20-touchdown season in 2021, Ekeler was scoreless until reaching the end zone five times in his last two games. He had just 36 rushing yards from contact in the first four weeks and 91 such yards on Sunday.

“It wasn’t crazy that we changed schematically,” said Ekeler. “I think we were just starting to attack the weakness in their defenses that we felt was internal to them.

“We were able to get these guys to move people. … If you go back and look at the running game and you see some of those holes you see our guys working together, moving bodies, it’s quite spectacular if you fancy watching football.

Denver suffered a 12-9 loss to Indianapolis during which the Colts rushed for 106 yards in 26 carries, averaging 4.1 yards per attempt.

The week before, Las Vegas rolled for 212 yards in 38 rushes in a 32-23 win over the Broncos.

With a quarterback like Justin Herbert, who is second in the NFL in passing yards, the Chargers won’t be running heavy over long stretches. But improved blocking from their offensive line certainly makes them harder to defend.

“These guys have shown they can get the job done,” Ekeler said. “That just helps all of our offense keep us more dynamic.”

Etc.

Wide receiver Keenan Allen practiced on his own Wednesday during the open-to-media portion of Chargers practice. He has sidelined the last four games with a hamstring injury. Allen ran mostly straight at just under 100%. He appeared far from being able to play in an NFL game, even though the Chargers have an extra day to prepare this week with their next game scheduled for Monday. … Pipkins also wasn’t practicing when he was dealing with an MCL sprain that Staley called a sprain. Pipkins was injured against Cleveland but was able to return after missing just five snaps. … wide receiver Mike Williams wasn’t in practice, the team announced he wasn’t feeling well.

https://www.latimes.com/sports/chargers/story/2022-10-12/chargers-run-improves-austin-ekeler-career-high Why can Chargers suddenly run again? Austin Ekeler explains

Emma Bowman

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