LA Chargers News

Chargers notebook: Offensive line, Austin Ekeler’s usage, playcalling

NASHVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 20: Philip Rivers #17 of the Los Angeles Chargers signals at the line of scrimmage during a game against the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium on October 20, 2019 in Nashville, Tennessee. The Titans defeated the Chargers 23-20. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
NASHVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 20: Philip Rivers #17 of the Los Angeles Chargers signals at the line of scrimmage during a game against the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium on October 20, 2019 in Nashville, Tennessee. The Titans defeated the Chargers 23-20. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
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CARSON, CALIFORNIA – OCTOBER 06: Austin Ekeler #30 of the Los Angeles Chargers waits for the start of play during a 20-13 loss to the Denver Broncos at Dignity Health Sports Park on October 06, 2019 in Carson, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
CARSON, CALIFORNIA – OCTOBER 06: Austin Ekeler #30 of the Los Angeles Chargers waits for the start of play during a 20-13 loss to the Denver Broncos at Dignity Health Sports Park on October 06, 2019 in Carson, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Ekeler’s usage

This might be the oddest coaching decision in the NFL. Ekeler was the hottest running back in the league prior to Gordon returning. Gordon ending his holdout should not have affected Ekeler in any way. Instead, we see the Chargers try to phase Ekeler out every week for the first half, and then desperately try to get him the ball in the second half when they realize that he is the hot hand.

It is repeated every week.

In three games, Gordon has 36 carries for 81 yards, again that adds up to 2.3 yards per carry. In the first three games of the season, Ekeler had 38 carries for 160 yards, averaging 4.2 yards per carry. Big difference. Nearly doubling Gordon’s production.

On top of that, Ekeler has Pro Football Focus’ highest receiving grade in the NFL, regardless of position. It’s easy to see why, as Ekeler has 49 receptions for 488 yards and four touchdowns. Those are wide receiver stats, and when Ekeler lines up out wide he plays like a receiver. Fun fact, Ekeler already has set his career-high in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns this season!

The highest receiving grade regardless of position belongs to Austin Ekeler. For good reason.

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— PFF (@PFF) October 20, 2019

Now, since Gordon has returned, it hasn’t been pretty for Ekeler. Over the last three games, he has only been given the ball 13 times on the ground. Once the Chargers get down at halftime and realize Gordon isn’t cutting it, they get desperate and beg Ekeler to save the game for them.

Ekeler then comes in and does what he does, making plays through the air. Over the last three games, Ekeler has 25 receptions for 218 yards and a touchdown. That’s a lot.

So, where should Ekeler’s usage be compared to where it is now? It should be maximized, it should be everywhere, and it should be a focus. Ekeler should be in the slot running routes, in the backfield running the ball, running jet sweeps across the formation, running double moves on the outside. He should be a focus of this offense, and the guy that terrifies opposing defenses alongside Keenan Allen.

Instead, the Chargers treat Gordon that way. Now, this is in no way bashing Gordon, but trying to understand why the Chargers are trying to force it to him. No disrespect, but Ekeler has just been the better guy.

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