Keenan Allen’s last three Chargers performances haven’t fit his style
He hasn’t looked good lately and neither have the rest of the Chargers.
None of that has stopped Keenan Allen from remaining stylish, looks having nothing to do with appearances.
So, over the past several weeks, the wide receiver has taken to wearing fancy scarves on game day, even wrapping his bald head in Versace during early on-field stretching.
In a sport where the league mandates the same headgear, Allen, one of the NFL’s finest route-runners, has found a way to create separation.
“He’s definitely got his own unique swag,” running back Austin Ekeler said. “Whatever it is, he’s going to rock it and he doesn’t care. We’ve all become used to it. If we see something, it’s just, ‘Well, that’s Keenan doing Keenan.’ ”
And Keenan doing Keenan is a good thing for the Chargers, Allen a Pro Bowl selection the past two years and a talent Chargers cornerback Casey Hayward called “just very, very blessed.”
Over the past few weeks, however, as his team’s season has become derailed, Keenan has been flatly prevented from doing Keenan.
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After three wildly productive games to start the season, Allen has faded dramatically over the next three as the Chargers have struggled to get him the ball.
He totaled 11 catches for 99 yards in a win over Miami and consecutive losses to Denver and Pittsburgh.
Twelve NFL players had more receiving yards last week alone, the group including one of Allen’s teammates, tight end Hunter Henry.
Even more telling, after setting an absurd pace for targets — 42 in three games — Allen has been targeted just 17 times in the three games since.
Chargers coach Anthony Lynn credited the opposition, saying defenses have schematically committed to stopping Allen, particularly with the way he began the year.
Quarterback Philip Rivers admitted this week that he probably could have thrown more to Allen recently but explained that team’s have taken away the easiest connections, “the gimme catch-and-runs.”
Offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt said the emergence of Henry, who returned Sunday after missing four games because of a knee injury, should help but added that the Chargers still need others to produce in order to free Allen.
Whatever the solution, it can’t be found soon enough for a team that has dropped four of its past five games and an offense that has scored two touchdowns in its previous 23 possessions.
“Keenan, he will get his touches,” Lynn promised. “When it’s all said and done, he will get his touches.”
Allen’s frustration — as has been the case with other Chargers during this slide — has become increasingly apparent. Generally accessible after games, he has been either unavailable or unwilling to offer more than a few words.
And this is a player who rarely is shy about anything, least of all offering opinions that can border on heartless.
Last season, after a loss to Denver, Allen said the Broncos “suck.” Following another loss to Denver this month, he wrote on Instagram of cornerback Chris Harris “that boy can’t hold my jockstrap.”
In the spring, when New York Jets running back Le’Veon Bell turned to social media to solicit critiques of his latest musical effort, Allen responded with an emoji of a trash can.
“He’s confident in himself,” Chargers wide receiver Mike Williams said. “That’s Keenan. He’s going to bring all the jokes and all the personality, but he’s also going to keep it real with you.”
Allen himself is a musician, one capable of singing and playing the piano. He learned the instrument from Gabe King, a former teammate at Cal and fellow native of Greensboro, N.C.
He called his preferred style “R&B-ish,” while noting he can play Beethoven without sheet music.
YouTube tutorials have helped Allen refine his skills in front of the keyboard. In the offseason, he invited Hayward and running back Melvin Gordon to a studio in Los Angeles to watch him record a few songs.
“He can really sing and play some good music,” Hayward said. “I really enjoy his stuff. Not many people have those talents. He might be more talented off the field, quite honestly.”
Given his gifts, his persona and — most importantly — his position, Allen hits the trifecta required for being a football diva. Yet, even though he plays a role similar to what Antonio Brown once did, Allen doesn’t play the same games.
He and Rivers did engage in a heated sideline exchange during a particularly frustrating afternoon last season, but any ill will between the two had expired long before the fourth quarter did.
“It’s never about that,” Allen said. “It’s always about winning for us. Whatever’s going to help the offense move down the field, whatever’s going to keep us on the field. I know that gives me a better chance to get stats, so …”
On Sunday, the Chargers and Allen will resume pursuing wins and stats against the Tennessee Titans.
Their season teetering, the Chargers’ chances of righting their offensive struggles could be tied directly to putting fate in their most reliable receiving hands.
After being targeted so frequently early on, Allen could be a bull’s-eye again in Nashville — for both teams.
“He is one of those elite players in the league who could have that superstar following,” Ekeler said. “He has the personality for it. He’s just a big, goofy, open personality. But not everyone wants that sort of thing.”
No, not everyone. Keenan Allen is more into appearances, on a team desperate to look good again.
Chargers’ Russell Okung says he will be “back to football as early as Week 7.” He’s been out since June after suffering a pulmonary embolism.
The Chargers might get left tackle Russell Okung back Sunday, but they definitely will be without defensive tackles Justin Jones and Brandon Mebane and likely without defensive end Melvin Ingram.
Okung, who missed the first six games after suffering a pulmonary embolism, returned to practice Thursday and could be activated from the non-football illness list Saturday.
Jones (shoulder) and Mebane (knee) were both ruled out against the Titans. Ingram (hamstring) hasn’t practiced all week and is listed as doubtful.
Missing their starting tackles up front, the Chargers will be forced to rely more on veterans Damion Square and T.Y. McGill, and rookies Jerry Tillery and Cortez Broughton.
Kicker Michael Badgley could make his 2019 debut Sunday barring a setback. He has yet to play this season because of a groin injury. If Badgley isn’t ready, rookie Chase McLaughlin will continue kicking.
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