Week 5 takeaways: Suddenly Chargers can run as Austin Ekeler sets career high

The Chargers' Austin Ekeler (30) stays ahead of the Browns' Jadeveon Clowney (90) on his way to the end zone.
Chargers running back Austin Ekeler (30) stays ahead of Cleveland Browns defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (90) on his way to the end zone. Ekeler finished with a career-high 173 yards on the ground.
(Ron Schwane / Associated Press)

The Chargers improved to 3-2 with a 30-28 victory over Cleveland on Sunday, their second win away from SoFi Stadium in as many weeks.

“To come out here and get two road wins, that’s big,” wide receiver Mike Williams said. “It’s hard to win in this league and even harder to do it on the road. They had a good crowd out there. We just brought a little more energy.”

Observations from their latest triumph:

STRUMMIN’ HIS GUITAR: Through three weeks, Austin Ekeler had 80 rushing yards and zero points. He has 233 yards on the ground and five touchdowns over the last two games.

“We have been building,” Ekeler said. “Last week, we had a little bit better production. This week, obviously more. I want to see us continue to do that. It is not necessarily a statement until you can continue to do it for a few weeks.”


Chargers coach Brandon Staley decided it was better to try for a first down than punt. When that failed, Cleveland needed just a few yards to kick a field goal but missed on last play of 30-28 loss.

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Ekeler’s 173 rushing yards Sunday marked a personal best and his third career 100-yard game. His effort included a 71-yard run in the first quarter, allowing him to reach his total — the NFL’s high in Week 5 — on only 16 carries.

The Chargers also turned to Joshua Kelley against the Browns after going with Sony Michel as the primary backup for the first four games. Kelley added 49 yards on 10 carries and another 33 yards on two receptions. He also scored his third career touchdown and first since Week 12 of the 2020 season.

“It’s been awhile, right?” Kelley said, laughing. “The offensive line … those guys were going crazy the whole game. The tight ends, the receivers. Everyone was just coming off the ball for us.”

The Chargers were last in the NFL with 258 rushing yards entering Sunday. They finished with 238 yards against the Browns and averaged seven yards a carry.

Coach Brandon Staley also praised his offensive line.

Chargers running back Joshua Kelley (25) runs after making a catch in front of Cleveland Browns safety John Johnson III.
Joshua Kelley (25) was the No. 2 running back this week for the Chargers, here running past Browns safety John Johnson III.
(Ron Schwane / Associated Press)

“We don’t want to be looked at as a passing team,” he said. “I think our guys were tired of hearing that because that’s not what we believe internally. We just needed to play together more. We needed to find our rhythm.”


ALOHA ALOHI: Alohi Gilman replaced a struggling Nasir Adderley at safety and produced his second career interception. He picked off Jacoby Brissett one yard deep in the end zone to kill a Browns’ threat with 2:44 left in the game.

“I kind of baited him into throwing it,” Gilman said. “I thought he was going to run the ball at one point. But he took the shot, and I fell back into the window.”

Adderley was the Chargers’ sixth defensive back, entering the game in their dime package. He also had a special teams tackle.

Gilman finished with seven tackles, second to safety Derwin James Jr. among the Chargers. He was presented with a game ball afterward.

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“We felt like ’Lo had earned an opportunity to start,” Staley said. “We wanted to see that combination out there of him and Derwin playing together.”


James’ 10 solo tackles marked a career high.

JACKSON STILL PLAYING CATCH UP? Another defensive back having a tough stretch is Pro Bowl cornerback J.C. Jackson. He was beaten by Amari Cooper on an 11-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter.

“He was up and down,” Staley said. “There were some good moments and then there were some moments that he needs to be a lot better. He just needs to get in his comfort zone from a fundamental standpoint.”

In March, the Chargers signed Jackson to a five-year deal worth up to $82.5 million with $40 million guaranteed.

He was out at the start of the season after undergoing a surgical procedure on his ankle in August. Staley suggested the practice time Jackson missed could be affecting his performance.

 Chargers cornerback J.C. Jackson (27) breaks up a pass intended for Cleveland Browns wide receiver Amari Cooper.
Chargers cornerback J.C. Jackson (27) breaks up a pass intended for Cleveland Browns wide receiver Amari Cooper.
(Ron Schwane / Associated Press)

“We know that he’s the man for the job,” Staley said. “He did a lot of good things in the second half, much more like we’re used to seeing.”


WHAT CAN BROWNS DO TO YOU: While they succeeded running the ball, the Chargers had a difficult time stopping the run against a Cleveland team that leads the league in rushing through five weeks.

Nick Chubb finished with 134 yards on 17 carries and Kareem Hunt added 47 yards on 11 carries.

“How do you slow down Nick Chubb?” defensive tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day said. “You don’t slow him down. You just fight your best. You hope and crawl. When we had to, at least, we made the big plays on defense.”

Chubb had a long run of 41 yards, continuing a trend of the Chargers giving up big plays on the ground. The Browns totaled 213 rushing yards and averaged 6.9 yards per carry.

“You have to give all the credit in the world to them,” linebacker Drue Tranquill said. “They’ve got All-Pros everywhere — across the offensive line, in the backfield. They’re a difficult team. But we’ve got to play better. They humbled us today.”

The Chargers' Christian Covington tackles the Browns' Kareem Hunt in the backfield on a fourth-down play.
The Chargers’ Christian Covington tackles the Browns’ Kareem Hunt in the backfield on a fourth-down play in the third quarter.
(David Richard / Associated Press)

COVETING COVINGTON: Despite yielding all that real estate on the ground, the Chargers did get a key fourth-down stop on Cleveland’s first possession of the second half.

Tackle Christian Covington broke through and dropped Hunt for a four-yard loss on fourth-and-one at the Browns’ 34-yard line. The Chargers kicked a field goal on the ensuing possession to take a 27-21 lead.

“It wasn’t a pretty game,” Covington said. “But that was a nice little highlight, you know, a fourth-and-one stop. But there’s a lot that we need to correct and improve, myself included.”

KICKING IN: Kicker Taylor Bertolet, who turns 30 this month, made his NFL debut after spending time with six NFL teams and playing in three other leagues. He had kicked in 10 NFL preseason games.

“I’ve just been bouncing around, trying to stay active, trying to stay relevant,” he said. “It feels amazing, honestly.”…

ROAD KILLER: Williams finished with 134 yards on 10 receptions, his fifth consecutive 100-yard game on the road. That ties Chad Johnson for the longest such streak by an AFC player in league history.


IN HIS OWN WORDS: Joseph-Day on his second-quarter roughing-the-passer penalty that extended a touchdown drive for Cleveland but appeared to be somewhat suspect: “I don’t want to talk about it, please. Don’t get me fined. Listen, we won. I’m not going to say nothing. But it was definitely interesting, for sure.”