Austin Ekeler emerging as big-play threat for Chargers
CARSON, Calif. (AP) — Opposing defenses are learning that Austin Ekeler is just as effective a running back as Melvin Gordon for the Los Angeles Chargers.
The second-year running back scored his third touchdown of the season on a 44-yard swing pass from Philip Rivers to lead the Chargers to a 26-10 victory over the Oakland Raiders on Sunday.
"He's got some juice now. He can really run," Rivers said. "I think he's one of those, you don't realize how fast he is running until you have to chase him, which I never have, but I've seen a lot of guys do it. That was impressive."
Ekeler, signed as an undrafted free agent in 2017, made two Oakland defenders miss at the Raiders 40, got a block from Keenan Allen and then went up the left sideline, putting the Chargers ahead for good.
"Moves into open space, that's how you can make your money in this league as a running back," Ekeler said. "That's where I think I excel and what I'm going to keep doing, winning one-on-ones."
Ekeler has 410 yards from scrimmage, with 207 coming via receptions. He has six touchdowns in his career and is three away from tying Dan Reeves for most TD catches by an undrafted player in his first two years in the league. Reeves had nine with Dallas 1965-66.
"You wish we would have signed him. He's running hard, he's making people miss," Raiders coach Jon Gruden said. "He has the flexibility to line up in the backfield or in the slot. He's a sharp customer who knows how to play the game."
Ekeler and Gordon are averaging 201 yards from scrimmage for the Chargers. Gordon is third among NFL running backs at 119 yards per game, and Ekeler is 12th at 82.
Gordon had 120 yards from scrimmage against the Raiders (58 rushing, 62 receiving), including a 1-yard touchdown run in the second quarter to put the Chargers up 17-3.
Rivers was 22 of 27 for 339 yards with two touchdowns and a 143.4 passer rating. He completed passes to seven players, but as he noted, no one had a big yardage day.
"It wasn't an eight-catch, 150-yard day for anybody, but you look up and there's 330 yards passing and a lot of guys touched the ball," Rivers said. "It was efficient. We ran it well enough and we didn't turn it over. When you do that you have a good chance for a win."
Here are some other things to know from Sunday's Raiders-Chargers game:
STURGIS' FUTURE IN DOUBT?
The Chargers signed punter Donnie Jones last Tuesday to also be the holder on field goals and extra points, thinking that it would help solve Caleb Sturgis' struggles. If the results of one game are any indication, it hasn't.
Sturgis made two field goals, but he also missed his fourth extra point of the season and was wide left on a 48-yard attempt on the last play of the first half.
The sixth-year kicker has missed four extra points this season, equaling the amount he had over three seasons in Philadelphia from 2015-17.
"The extra point did bother me a little bit, but we'll figure out what happened there," said Chargers coach Anthony Lynn when asked about Sturgis' struggles. "He's been kicking with a lot of confidence, so I'm not concerned about it."
ON THE LINE
The Raiders had a pair of rookie tackles starting in a game for the first time since the 1970 merger, with Kolton Miller at left tackle and Brandon Parker on the right side. Oakland allowed three sacks, but quarterback Derek Carr wasn't ready to single them out.
"I thought they played really well for it being a tough environment for them, against a great blitz package," Carr said. "Everyone has plays. It's easier to just find, 'Ah, rookie offensive tackle, let's blame him."
Oakland was putting together a nice drive during the third quarter and got to the Chargers' 1 before Derek Carr threw an interception to Melvin Imgram in the end zone. A touchdown would have brought the Raiders within 10 with 1:05 remaining in the third quarter, but it basically ended all hopes for a comeback.
Carr has more interceptions (eight) than touchdowns (seven) after the first five games in Gruden's offense. Gruden says that the fifth-year quarterback is progressing, but Carr admitted after the game that he needs to quit pressing.
"Those are the kinds of things where with my aggressiveness and his aggressiveness, we are learning and he does a great job communicating with me after stuff like that," Carr said. "He doesn't want me to stop being aggressive, but at the same time not forcing them, not pressing and sometimes to not make too many plays."
Both teams have "home" games at London's Wembley Stadium the next two weeks. The Raiders will face the Seattle Seahawks next Sunday, while the Chargers take on the Tennessee Titans on Oct. 21.
Oakland will practice at its facility before flying to London later in the week. Los Angeles will stay in Cleveland for four days after facing the Browns next Sunday before making the trip abroad.
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