Chargers hope for more consistency in run game against Chiefs

Chargers running back Austin Ekeler runs against the Las Vegas Raiders.
The Chargers’ Austin Ekeler runs against the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday at SoFi Stadium. The Chargers gained just 76 yards in 31 carries for an average of 2.5 yards per attempt.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

The Chargers won a big AFC West showdown Sunday behind their Pro Bowl quarterback who hit nine receivers and targeted 11 teammates total.

The passing game was a spectacular spray chart of opportunities spread in many directions.

But the running game? That chart wasn’t so spectacular.

The Chargers did manage 31 rushes, helping them open a five-minute advantage in time of possession on an afternoon when they ran nine more offensive plays than Las Vegas.

But they averaged only 2.5 yards per rushing attempt, which ranked last among the NFL’s 32 teams in Week 1.

Offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said he would like to see “a little more consistency” in the Chargers’ rushing attack entering their next big AFC West showdown — Thursday night at Kansas City.

“I thought the blocking was good by the O-line overall,” Lombardi said. “But in any one run play, it just takes one guy to kind of be a little late off the ball or to mis-target it …

“It’s just little details, getting off the ball. ... It shouldn’t be a big deal. But the first game — it was on a couple runs anyway — just getting those details down. I think we’re going to be just fine.”

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Against the Raiders, the Chargers’ top run blockers along the offensive line were left tackle Rashawn Slater and left guard Matt Feiler, according to Pro Football Focus.

Among those linemen who played at least 50 snaps Sunday, PFF had 56 tackles graded higher in run blocking than Trey Pipkins III and 49 guards graded higher than Zion Johnson. Corey Linsley was ranked 20th by PFF among centers.

Running back Austin Ekeler’s 14 carries and 36 yards rushing topped the Chargers against Las Vegas. Sony Michel, who signed after the conclusion of training camp, had a six-yard run but gained only six yards total in his other six carries.

The team’s most efficient and effective runner was Joshua Kelley, although his sample size was limited. Kelley gained 21 yards in four attempts.

“I’ll take that on myself, just not reading looks as clean as I should have,” said Ekeler, who, speaking of a few runs in particular, added, “There’s still so much left on the bone.”

Like many teams, the Chargers didn’t play many of their starters in the preseason. Ekeler acknowledged the possibility that there might have been some rust Sunday.


“This was the first time together where we [were] actually on the field going full speed, tackling to the ground,” he said. “So you’re gonna have to work through some stuff. Now, no excuse. We’ve got a game under our belt. Gotta get it going again.”

Chargers running back Joshua Kelley runs against the Las Vegas Raiders.
Chargers running back Joshua Kelley carries the ball against the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday at SoFi Stadium.
(Gregory Bull / Associated Press)

Ekeler played only 49% of the Chargers’ offensive snaps Sunday. He was below 50% just twice in 16 games in 2021.

The Chargers have been adamant about trying to lessen the demands on Ekeler after he had a career-high 276 touches last season.

Plus, with only three days between games this week, coach Brandon Staley said the team has to be especially cognizant of Ekeler’s usage.

“We felt like Austin was really shouldering that load by himself last year, and we want to be mindful of how that position is,” Staley said. “That’s an attrition position, and he’s such a valuable player for our football team.

“We want to be always thinking about the long game. It was really good to feature all three backs. I think we needed all three of those backs in order to win that game on Sunday.”

Ekeler said he was fine with how the Chargers used him in their opener.

“That’s just how it played out that week,” he said. “I don’t know if it will be the same this week or a little bit different. I know I got to get myself more efficient in the run game or I’m probably going to lose reps there. That’s how this goes. So, make sure I’m locked in and taking advantage of the reps I do get.”

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Cornerback J.C. Jackson close to returning

Pro Bowl cornerback J.C. Jackson took a step toward returning when the Chargers estimated that he would have been a limited participant had the team practiced Tuesday.

The NFL requires clubs to project any injured player’s status when actual practices aren’t taking place. With the quick Sunday-to-Thursday turnaround, the Chargers only are conducting walk-throughs this week.

Jackson missed the opener while continuing to recover from a surgical procedure on his right ankle Aug. 23. On Monday, Staley characterized Jackson’s chances of playing against the Chiefs as “50-50.”

“I think he’s headed in the right direction,” Staley said, “but I think there is still a lot to be decided before game time on Thursday night.”

Wide receiver Keenan Allen is not expected to be ready to face Kansas City after he suffered a hamstring injury during Sunday’s win.

“I don’t think it’s looking great for this week, but you never know,” Staley said. “I wouldn’t put anything past Keenan. So we’re not ruling him out.”

On Wednesday, the Chargers will release their official player status report for the game.

Staley said tight end Donald Parham Jr. (hamstring) won’t play. Parham also missed the opener.