The Chargers Prioritized Austin Ekeler Against The Texans, And It Paid Off (For Fantasy Owners, Too!)

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austin ekeler

How many fantasy football owners do you think looked at the first three weeks and benched Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler against the Houston Texans?

They must regret it now.

After not scoring in the first three weeks and seeing his production plummet, Ekeler rose with a vengeance Sunday in Houston running for 60 yards and scoring three times in a 34-24 Chargers win that was sort of closer than the score looks, or, maybe not so much?

The Chargers led 27-7 and were in total cruise control when the Texans got hot and really should have taken the lead after a DeAndre Carter fumbled a kickoff return inside the 20.

But while Ekeler was the headliner, the Chargers defensive line was also the difference – unsung hero Jerry Tillery may have made the biggest defensive play of the game when the Texans were threatening to go ahead.

Even with injuries to Joey Bosa and Keenan Allen, and missing pieces of their offensive line, the Chargers are more talented than the Texans and that was the real difference.

Paging No. 30, Paging No. 30

Again, the Chargers didn’t run the ball that well, just 81 yards on the day, and it’s weird because you’d figure running lanes should be open with teams expecting Justin Herbert to pass.

Whether the Chargers just don’t call that many running plays is up for debate. And it’s also fair to wonder if Herbert’s rib injury has impacted the running game since he’s clearly not interested in scrambling at the moment.

Leave it to Ekeler who made all the big plays for the Chargers Sunday, including two monster plays on the final Chargers touchdown drive.

On the very first play of that drive with the Chargers at their own 16, for some reason the Texans turned down a holding penalty meaning it was second-and-12, not first-and-20 and Ekeler gained 11 yards on an inside give.

That set up momentum for the drive. Again, why wouldn’t you want first-and-20 for LA at their own six? I’d love to see the analytics on that one.

Then on fourth-and-one a few plays later, Herbert found Ekeler on a bootleg pass for a first down and big gain. A simple pitch and catch. No Texan was there.

It was two examples of the Chargers going to a player they knew they could rely on to make plays. The Chargers last touchdown actually looked a lot like the fourth down play with Ekeler sneaking out of the backfield and the Texans looking like they’d never considered that he might catch a pass. Ekeler made a nifty move to tap the pylon for the clinching score.

No Bosa And It Was All Right

The Chargers opened the game with Kyle Van Noy in Joey Bosa’s spot but used multiple players in that position in order to generate a pass rush.

The truth was, the Texans offensive line is horrible and the Chargers pretty much did whatever they wanted. Khalil Mack was in Texans quarterback Davis Mills’ face from the start, forcing a high pass and an interception on the game’s third play.

Instead of straight up replacing Bosa, the Chargers did more scheme things to get Mack space. On that third play, they put both Mack and Morgan Fox on the outside eye of the Texans left tackle. Mack bull rushed, then circled inside to get the hit.

Chris Rumph II saw a lot of snaps in the Bosa spot but was largely ineffective on the pass rush. He looks like a speed rusher without a lot of power.

Los Angeles finished with four sacks and 10 recorded hits on Mills.

Houston Has A Lot Of Problems

I know we want to talk about the Chargers, but the other big takeaway from Sunday was, wow, the Texans are lousy.

Mills looks like a career NFL back-up quarterback. He is not a starter they can win with. Houston has no offensive weapons that scare you at all, other than maybe Brandin Cooks. The offensive line is lousy, the defensive line was a non-factor.

Rookie running back Dameon Pierce is a great find. He’s a player, but the Texans look like a team without much direction. Are they trying to build an offense around Mills? Are they trying to shore up the defense? Top pick Derek Stingley Jr. hurt his elbow in the fourth quarter and never made a big play Sunday.

Houston was called for three defensive holding penalties, which is almost impossible. Some of the play calling was weirdly conservative and what was with calling the timeout at the end of the game to get the ball back, only to run the ball?

There were lots of boos in Houston with good reason. The Texans are 0-3-1 and sinking.

Did You Notice?

The officials missed a clear helmet-to-helmet hit in the second quarter on Chargers tight end/receiver Gerald Everett by Garret Wallow. Sometimes refs are so quick to call it, and sometimes they just look the other way, but Wallow clearly lowered his head and made contact with Everett’s head.

The Chargers starting offensive line was Jamaree Salyer at left tackle, Matt Feiler at left guard, Corey Linsley back at center, Zion Johnson and right guard and Trey Pipkins III at right tackle. Salyer was the big news, the rookie out of Georgia was making his first start. He was a sixth-round pick. He wasn’t tested all that much by the Texans but did fine.

Justin Herbert was officially sacked once, but that was just because he started to run and then slid down behind the line of scrimmage and was touched down. He didn’t absorb any big hits Sunday.

How big is Chargers offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi’s watch face when they show him in the coaches box? That thing is huge. NFL teams probably can’t wait to hire him as head coach just to say they have “Coach Lombardi.” It’s just a matter of time.

Mack was completely unblocked on the Texans’ fourth-and-one try at the end of the first half. It looked like the Texans were trying to hit the running back in the flat (sort of what the Chargers did with Ekeler on their final TD), but you might want to block the defensive end there.

You can’t fumble that DeAndre Carter, that will get you shipped out of the league.

Tillery made the big play when the Texans had the ball inside the Chargers 20 and a chance to take the lead. He bulled past Texans guard Kenyon Green and forced a fumble by Mills which almost every Charger had a chance at but the Texans recovered. The nine-yard loss pushed the Texans back and forced them to try a field goal.

The Chargers now lead the series with the Texans 6-3, and it was a tiny measure of revenge after the Texans upset Los Angeles late in 2021.