In their Week One contest against the Indianapolis Colts, the Los Angeles Chargers will have to find production from a key offensive piece in order to quiet doubters and amplify excitement.
As a current student in Indianapolis, Indiana while also a proud Chargers fan, these past few weeks have been tumultuous. Constant debates raged early in August as I battled die-hard Colts fans. For most of August these two teams were quite similar. Nationally underrated, but acknowledged by many as legitimate Super Bowl contenders. Then a certain player by the name of Andrew Luck decided to end his career a little earlier than expected and dreams of many of my Indy friends were crushed. Now, with only days until kickoff the Chargers stand as 6.5 point favorites according to OddShark.com. Despite this, many Chargers fans might have some worry about this game considering the team’s record in its opening game in recent history: 1-5 in Week One the past six years.
It is important for this week’s X-factor to play well not only for the success of the team in their first regular season contest of the new season, but also to give General Manager Tom Telesco even more bargaining power in a negotiation that has raged for the better part of the offense. If it wasn’t obvious by now, the player in question is Austin Ekeler. Moving away from the broader implications of his performance in Week One, a great Ekeler makes covering that 6.5-point spread a whole lot easier. The Colts will have to rely more heavily on their defense this season after the departure of Luck. Perhaps the most integral piece of that defense is Linebacker Darius Leonard.
Leonard topped the league last year with 163 combined tackles, and if he can play at a similar pace this season, he will certainly cause headaches in the middle of the field for Phillip Rivers and company. One of the best ways to counter a great middle linebacker is the presence of a quality pass-catching running back. Leonard will likely be tasked with covering Ekeler for a large portion of the contest, and if the third-year back can demonstrate the ability to catch the ball early in the game it will make Leonard’s ability to rush Rivers far more difficult.
Looking more into the grand scheme of the Chargers’ 2019-2020 season, a dominant showing from Ekeler would continue to put the pressure on Gordon. With his holdout sure to extend into the season, proving an ability to win without him will give Telesco just that much more leverage. While contract talks seem to be postponed until next off-season, a solid showing from Ekeler will allow the organization to more confidently fine Gordon to the full extent as they look to coax an appearance from the disgruntled star.
Ekeler having a fantastic game will not only help the Chargers start the season at 1-0, but will also give a solid boost to their negotiations with Gordon. This makes him this week’s X-Factor. Come back next week for a new player to watch out for in the Week Two match-up against the Detroit Lions.