The San Diego Chargers’ secret to success has been one which has seldom been used in the past couple of seasons. Sure, this player’s name is no secret – but the way in which he’s used is awfully new. We’re talking about Austin Ekeler. And Austin Ekeler carrying the ball.
Post Week 3: A New Look Chargers
Chargers fans have been beyond blessed for the past two seasons to watch Justin Herbert obliterate defenses and record books. LA’s success has largely been placed on number 10’s shoulders – and it’s faired quite well, too. However, 2022 has been a year of adaptation on many fronts for the Bolts. The Defense becoming much more reliable (aside from Week 3, of course). Justin Herbert not being at 100% and without number one receiver Keenan Allen. Lastly, it’s been the ability to run the ball and run the ball effectively which has given the Chargers their two-game winning streak.
It’s funny how life has a way of forcing us to change, to grow. Sometimes it’s the most uncomfortable situations that do that, really. And sports do just the same thing. That said, I think it’s pretty safe to say that a couple of Pro Bowlers going down for extended time will make you change things up a bit – whether you like it, or not! Both life, and football, are games of adjustments. It’s one thing to have a plan, but it’s a whole different matter of how you react when that plan doesn’t go accordingly. Did the Chargers expect to rely on the ground game? Hell no.
But now that they have, and here the Chargers stand at 3-2 due to the strength and effectiveness of said run game – it truly shows the growth, and well-roundedness of this team. And as a fan, you gotta love it. If the Chargers can win without Rashawn Slater, Joey Bosa, Keenan Allen, and with a banged up Herbert – that’s pretty scary. The only downer to that is looking at the opponents those wins came against…
Broncos Country, Let’s Ride
And this couldn’t be any more apparent as a factor as the Chargers line up against the struggling Denver Broncos for a prime-time matchup on Monday night. It doesn’t take much research to see that the Broncos are off-course – but let’s not get this confused; they’re still incredibly talented. There is absolutely NO reason for taking this game as a given, especially considering that the Chargers lost to the Jaguars earlier this season. When you’re up against a team led by Russell Wilson, nothing is guaranteed. Let alone when you’re going up against Russell Wilson playing for a division rival.
With all of that being said – another factor in play here is the strength of the Denver Broncos’ pass defense. There’s Surtain II, Kareem Jackson in the secondary, and Bradley Chubb up front bringing the rush. That’s pretty scary if you ask me. Take all of that, and throw in the fact that Herbo is still not himself, and still without Keenan Allen. It’s safe to say that the rushing attack will be as crucial as ever. And it’s clear the Chargers can run the ball too, it’s just a matter of making it an identity.
Bolt Fam, Let’s Run
Philosophy changes aren’t easy. There have been few-a-teams in the history of the NFL that have been quick to make a change and to do it successfully. Look at the most recent one that comes to mind – the Baltimore Ravens. They went from a defense-first team with traditional quarterbacks. Now, look at them, a rush-heavy offense with one of the most “untraditional” QBs of all time. Sure, they’ve amassed plenty of wins – but they’re still missing a ring.
Now, to be fair, it’s a bit different when you apply this theory to the Chargers, given that Justin Herbert probably won’t be in a slump forever. However, for the time being – the Chargers need to embrace this change; and embrace it with grace. Easier said than done when you have Brandon Staley at the helm. Let me be clear, I’m not a Staley hater by any means – but the guy has been quite hard-headed since he took over. Take last week for example, with his bone-headed fourth down conversion attempt when the game could’ve easily been sealed with a punt.
If Staley decides to come out and try to sling it per usual with 40+ throws from Herbert, there’s a rude surprise waiting for us Chargers fans. But, if Brandon Staley can trust the guys up front who have been deserving of trust as of late, then Ekeler, Kelley, and Michel should have a long (and hopefully fun) night ahead of them. Now here’s the kicker – it’s a fair assumption to say that the Broncos’ defensive coordinator has seen the film, hell, even the highlights of what Ekeler’s done in the past two weeks. You have to imagine that the Broncos are going to game plan against it.
The Chargers Are Running – But Not Running Away
Thus, bringing the final factor – it’s not really so much Ekeler, as it is the Offensive line and their respective coach. Effective offensive line play is not only attributed to having bigger and faster men in the trenches. Sure, it’s a big part of it – but it’s also the schemes used to control the line of scrimmage. If the Chargers’ big men up front can find a way to win the line of scrimmage, and let Ekeler do his thing – the win is in the bag. But if the Broncos come out keying on 30/27, then Herbert will need to dink and dunk all he can to open up the run game. As we can see, there are a few different ways of going about it – but ultimately, the key has shifted from relying on the arm of Herbert to relying on the legs of Ekeler, Zion Johnson, Corey Linsley, and Jamaree Salyer. No one likes change, but sometimes, it’s necessary…
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