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What’s wrong with Chargers’ offense? It’s practically running on empty

The Texans' Christian Kirksey tackles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler.
The Texans’ Christian Kirksey tackles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler. The Chargers have the worst rushing attack in the NFL and Ekeler is averaging 3.1 yards per carry.
(Matt Patterson / Associated Press)

On Sunday night, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers rushed for three yards against Kansas City.

Three yards. For the entire game.

Still, they’ve outgained the Chargers on the ground for the season.

Tampa Bay ranks 31st in the NFL with 261 rushing yards, three more than the league-worst Chargers.

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Offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said Thursday that the running game has lacked consistency, something he explained can be fixed with better play-calling and better execution of those better play calls.

The Chargers seemingly have improved their run defense, but in their last three outings they have given up long runs of 75, 50 and 52 yards to ruin their per-play average.

“I wish it were easy that you could just point to one thing,” Lombardi said. “But, as usual with these things, it’s everyone pulling a little harder to get the thing going in the right direction.”

The Chargers are coming off their best output on the ground yet. In a 34-24 victory at Houston, they rushed for 81 yards, a total still topped by 12 players in Week 4.

And one of those players, Atlanta’s Tyler Allgeier, needed only 10 carries to best the Chargers with 84 yards.

“We want to see improvement week to week,” Austin Ekeler said. “That’s what’s next. We only had like 80 yards, which isn’t great. But it’s an upward trajectory to where we’re trying to go.”

The running-game pain also was lessened against the Texans because Ekeler scored two of his three touchdowns on the ground. The Chargers entered last weekend with zero rushing scores.

Chargers running back Austin Ekeler celebrates his touchdown against the Houston Texans in the second half.
Chargers running back Austin Ekeler had the opportunity to celebrate three touchdowns against the Houston Texans, two on runs.
(Eric Christian Smith / Associated Press)

Though not exactly prolific, they did run enough times to present a viable threat that helped quarterback Justin Herbert utilize play-action in a passing attack that amassed 340 yards.

The Chargers’ biggest gain in Houston was a 50-yard Herbert completion to Mike Williams, a play that opened up after the Texans’ linebackers were drawn forward by a fake handoff to Ekeler.

“Personally, just having a two-yard average, getting hit in the backfield, not getting anything going was pretty discouraging,” said Ekeler, who finished Sunday with 13 carries for 60 yards. “We’re not where we need to be, but we’re going in the right direction now.”

League-wide, 16 players have gained more rushing yards than the Chargers. Their longest run has been 20 yards. Know who else has a long run of 20 yards this season? Las Vegas quarterback Derek Carr.

But, at least with a few encouraging moments against the Texans, the Chargers enter Week 5 feeling better about their rushing chances. On Sunday, they play at Cleveland against a defense that ranks 17th against the run.

Chargers-Texans takeaways: The running game has not been going well, but in Week 4, Austin Ekeler ran for two touchdowns and took a short pass and ran for another in a road victory.

Pro Bowl center Corey Linsley said he sensed momentum and belief building during the victory over Houston.

“We had probably a play or two every series where it was like, ‘Hey, let’s talk about this because we can get something right here or right there,’ ” Linsley said. “Just little adjustments that you try to make during the game.

“That going forward is going to mean so much to our running game, the fact that there’s a ton of meat left on the bone. We definitely weren’t satisfied with the end yardage. But we got to snowball this and take it into the weeks to come.”

The Chargers’ most efficient runner to date has been Joshua Kelley, whose 4.2 per-carry average tops the team. But he has only 13 attempts playing behind Ekeler and Sony Michel.

NFL readers want to know if Chargers coach Brandon Staley in danger of losing his job, and should Rams coach Sean McVay rely more on his offensive coordinator?

Lombardi was asked Thursday if he believes the Chargers should use Kelley more moving forward.

“I think we should,” he said. “I think it’s a good point.”

Etc.

Wide receiver Keenan Allen (hamstring) did not practice again and remains unlikely to play Sunday. ... The Chargers added tight end Gerald Everett (hamstring) to their injury report as a limited practice participant. Kicker Dustin Hopkins (quadriceps) and wide receiver Joshua Palmer (ankle) also were limited. With Hopkins’ status in doubt, the Chargers signed kicker Taylor Bertolet to their practice squad. Bertolet, 29, played collegiately at Texas A&M. He has spent time with five other NFL teams but has never kicked in a game.


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