No one has caught more passes for more yards in the NFL this season than Keenan Allen.
No one has more receptions of 20-plus yards and only three players have scored more touchdowns through the air than the back-to-back Pro Bowler.
This says a lot about Allen but perhaps even more about the Chargers. A team that anticipated having so many offensive weapons in 2019 instead has become reliant on a single pair of hands.
“We’re going to need everyone,” coach Anthony Lynn said this week. “We’re 1-2 right now. We need everybody in that receiving group to step up and make plays, not just Keenan. As they step up, we’ll spread the ball around.”
Part of the problem is who the Chargers don’t have at the moment. Tight end Hunter Henry was lost to a fractured knee in the season opener, an injury that will cost him several weeks.
Also absent is Pro Bowl running back Melvin Gordon, whose contract holdout is now approaching nine weeks.
Through three games last season, Gordon had 316 yards on 56 touches. He had been targeted by quarterback Philip Rivers 24 times.
As good as Austin Ekeler has been so far — a three-touchdown opener against Indianapolis being the highlight — he actually had more rushing yards at this point last season, while complementing Gordon.
He has been significantly more involved in the passing game in 2019, but Ekeler also is coming off a second half in which he had no receptions and wasn’t targeted once.
“Us outside the box, we all need to step up,” Ekeler said. “We can’t win games with just one guy making plays. … I feel like we have the guys to do that. We’ve shown that we have the guys to do that. We gotta show it again this year.”
Wide receiver Mike Williams has remained on the field, but he too is dealing with a knee issue, one that is compromising his ability to torment opposing secondaries with his impressive frame and skill set.
“Mike is showing a lot of toughness right now,” Lynn said. “Mike is really playing with his injuries and he’s fighting through it. I think that’s part of learning how to be a professional, playing through pain and producing.”
To understand just how Allen-centered the Chargers have become, consider that Rivers has thrown in his direction 42 times, which is at least nine more than every other player in the league.
Even more, Allen has been targeted on 32 occasions over the past two weeks. Over the same span, that’s at least 12 more each than Michael Thomas, Julio Jones and Odell Beckham Jr.
With Mike Williams hobbled, the Chargers are missing Tyrell Williams more than ever. He departed in the offseason through free agency and, after three games, has 14 receptions for 180 yards and three touchdowns for Oakland.
After Allen and Mike Williams, the Chargers have wide receivers Travis Benjamin and Dontrelle Inman. They have a combined seven catches for 73 yards.
The Chargers love Benjamin’s speed, but his size — 5 feet10, 175 pounds — can be problematic.
“He’s a small guy,” Lynn said. “You can only use him in so many ways. We probably have to figure out ways to get him the ball more. … But the times we have targeted him I need to see a little more consistency.”
Benjamin, who finished the game against Houston with a quadriceps injury, has dropped three passes the past two weeks. Two of those receptions would have produced first downs. The other would have been a 42-yard touchdown in the final two minutes in the 27-20 loss to the Texans.
“They all drop one every now and then,” Lynn said. “I mean, you look at [two weeks ago], very first play Keenan dropped it. We didn’t stop going to him, though, did we? We’re not going to stop going to Travis.”
This week, the Chargers travel to face an 0-3 Miami team that has given up 59, 43 and 31 points in their games, respectively. The Dolphins defense has surrendered the most touchdown passes and highest quarterback rating in the NFL.
With the Chargers having lost two in a row, an offense still searching for its weapons — and its identity — should have an opportunity to get well.
“We have a lot of football left,” Lynn said after the loss to Houston. “There’s a lot of character in that locker room. I have no doubt those young men and the coaching staff are going to turn this thing around.”
Bosa, Ingram sacks
The Chargers have celebrated pass rushers Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. They also have only four sacks, which is tied with Miami for 29th in the league.
Lynn said part of the issue is the approach teams such as Houston and Detroit took to counteract the pass rush. Both often employed maximum protection schemes and quick passes.
“That’s what we’re gonna get and that’s what we’re gonna get used to,” Lynn said. “We’re going to figure out different ways to affect the quarterback, like tipping balls and getting our hands up. When people go quick passing game and they use six to block four, it’s going to be hard to get to the quarterback.”
Bosa has been credited with 1.5 sacks and Ingram with one. The Chargers offense has given up 10 sacks.