COSTA MESA — Austin Ekeler’s 173-yard rushing performance in the Chargers’ victory over the Cleveland Browns last weekend was both a career high and the most yardage on the ground by an NFL running back this season. As an added bonus, the Chargers rushed for a season-best 238 yards.
It’s unlikely Ekeler, Joshua Kelley and the rest of the Chargers’ running backs will repeat their performances when they take on the Denver Broncos on Monday night at SoFi Stadium. It’s probably too much to ask for a second consecutive exceptional game on the ground.
“Every week is a process and you go through the process and give everything you can into the planning and the practice and putting thought into it,” Chargers offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said. “Just because it worked on Sunday doesn’t mean it’ll work this Sunday.”
The Chargers’ successful running game enabled quarterback Justin Herbert to pick apart Cleveland’s secondary for short passes and long ones alike, keeping the Browns off balance during a 30-28 victory. It also eased the burden on Herbert and his fractured rib cartilage.
“It’s great,” Lombardi said of establishing an effective ground game against the Browns, one week after the Chargers rushed for a modest 81 yards in a victory over the Houston Texans. “It makes it so much easier when you run the ball well. It’s good. It’s encouraging, but every week is a new week.
“It doesn’t guarantee anything for the future.”
So, what changed last Sunday?
What did the Chargers do differently against the Browns?
“It’s going to be the same answer as when it doesn’t go well,” Lombardi said. “Everything involved is a little bit better. I have to give credit to ‘Nuge’ (offensive line coach Brendan Nugent), (assistant offensive line coach) Shaun Sarrett and (tight ends coach Kevin) Koger. They really came up with a good plan and (we) blocked it well. The runners came to play. You could feel that early.
“Everyone involved was responsible.”
What of Monday’s game against the Broncos?
Lombardi wouldn’t guarantee a repeat of last Sunday.
That would be too much to ask of the Chargers’ linemen and running backs.
Lombardi sounded an optimistic tone, however.
“Confidence is such a big thing in any endeavor, so hopefully it builds a little confidence,” Lombardi said when asked about his expectations for Monday. “I don’t think the stats showed it as much, but I felt like we were running the ball effectively against Houston, as well. So, you hope it can keep going.”
Ekeler had a season-best 199 total yards from scrimmage Sunday against Cleveland, including four receptions for 26 yards. Joshua Kelley added a season-high 82 yards from scrimmage (49 yards rushing and 33 receiving), giving the Chargers a one-two backfield punch.
“We’ve got to continue to do it, though,” Ekeler said of teaming with Kelley. “We’ve got to come out and do it week in and week out. We want to be predominant. We’re still looking for that every week. Until we get it, I won’t say, ‘Yeah,’ because it might have been a one-time thing. I don’t know. We’ll see.”
In fact, the search for consistency is ongoing.
“Every drive has a life of its own,” Ekeler said. “We’re going back on the field. Here we go again. Let’s begin again. It’s not like a clicking feeling, no, no. It’s like coming into work, something we can all relate to. You don’t know if it’s going to be a good day or not. I don’t know, but I’m going to try to put my best foot forward and, hopefully, do that.”
HANDS IN THE AIR
The roughing-the-passer call on the Chargers’ Sebastian Joseph-Day on the Browns’ Jacoby Brissett was one of several during Week 5 that ignited debates around the league about the perceived overprotection of quarterbacks. Brissett went down easily after Joseph-Day shoved him.
It was a topic of discussion around the Chargers’ training facility, too.
“We’ve got to let them know if the ball is out (of the quarterback’s hands), you’ve just gotta put your hands up,” defensive coordinator Renaldo Hill said of coaching defensive linemen such as Joseph-Day. “We’re going to learn from it. We’re going to continue to learn from it. It happened to us. We’ve just got to keep addressing it. Those guys (rushers) get close, the quarterback has the ball out, just put your hands up in the air. That’s how we have to address it to those guys.”