As fans erupted with joy and jubilation, it inevitably turned into reserved optimism because, as they say, “one carry does not a career make.” But a little less than 365 days later, we are still seeing flashes and feeling the residuals from that unexpected performance.
Going into the Chargers 2018 season, Ekeler is no longer a former-UDFA coasting by on his strong 2017 preseason performance which landed him on that year’s final 53-man roster. He is now the solidified RB2 on this team and retains a vice-grip on his roster spot that doesn’t look to be relinquished anytime soon.
It was expected that Ekeler would see an inflation in playing time this season, regardless if tight end Hunter Henry was healthy and available. In the Bolts’ first game of the 2018 season, many of the fan base’s expectations came to fruition, and then some.
As a runner, Ekeler received just a handful of carries against the Chiefs (5) compared to Gordon (15). But true to form, Ekeler’s average yards per tote was almost double Gordon’s (7.8 to 4.3).
As receivers, both backs were pelted with targets in their comeback attempt. Gordon caught 9 of his 13 targets for 102 yards, averaging 11.3 per catch, while Ekeler caught all five of his for 87 yards, a touchdown, and a very healthy 17.4 yards average.
For the game, he averaged 12.6 yards per touch.
Gordon’s average, albeit on more than twice the touches, was just 6.9.
It will never seem fair to compare their boxscores unless the two start to record comparable workloads but this theme has stayed the same since way back into last season and I don’t think it can be ignored much longer.
The most satisfying thing about watching Ekeler play football is that he just has that uncanny, uncoachable ability to make plays when the team needs it the most. It’s usually the main difference between the players that are kinda good and the great players, the players that are recalled occasionally and the ones you just cannot forget.
The cool thing about Austin Ekeler is that he has the "ability to make plays when needed" trait that I heard is needed for good players. pic.twitter.com/hN2lmuaMiQ— Michael Peterson (@ZoneTracks) September 13, 2018
In the above play, Gordon is out wide to the left with Keenan Allen in the slot. Ekeler runs a traditional go-route while Allen runs a fade towards the sideline. Allen’s route incidentally takes him to Ekeler and when Rivers lets it rip, you can’t really tell who he’s trying to throw it to.
The ball is just out of reach for Allen but also looked to be short of Ekeler, as well. Unsurprisingly, Ekeler put enough distance between him and his defender off the line that he was able to come to a stop for a full second and allow the ball to land in his arms before the defender could get back into position.
This play kicked off the team’s third drive of the game, arguably one of the most important drives of the entire game, as the Chargers found themselves in an early 14-3 hole and were needing points about as bad as Kyle Posey needs a “no credit card minimum” at happy hour.
They needed a play. Ekeler answered the call.
Unpopular opinion time: Ekeler is the team’s most successful power-back.
Here me out.
At the end of the day, it does not matter how strong or heavy a running back is if they cannot fall forward after runs and grind out the two or three-yard gains necessary to keep drives moving in critical situations. Ekeler, all 5-foot-10 and 200 pounds of him, wins in these situations more than not.
One of my favorite run calls against the Chiefs. Whis ran this play with Gates last year but I think it hits a bit quicker with Green as the lead blocker.— Michael Peterson (@ZoneTracks) September 13, 2018
Peep Ekeler giving a nice stiff-arm to the LB and getting some YAC. pic.twitter.com/7NVq813fxv
There’s nothing too flashy about this play from Ek, but the ending is just one of a plethora of examples that showcase his ability to finish runs. The stiff-arm on LB Anthony Hitchens is a nice touch, as well.
I’m throwing this last play in here for good measure to really hammer home how Ekeler has a such grasp on the little things that a player can do to tack on an extra yard or two at the end of plays.
It's always been the little things that have made Ekeler such a success.— Michael Peterson (@ZoneTracks) September 11, 2018
Facing to defenders, he's able to use a little hesi to split them for a few more yards. These things add up. pic.twitter.com/lR5s8rxTg9
It’s just a simple hesitation before he gets skinny and splits the defenders but again, it’s always been the little things with #30. They add up. As cliche as it is to say, there’s a reason why coaches and leaders beat the sentiment into the ground.
I don’t know about you guys, but I’m excited. I’m excited to see if Ken Whisenhunt will continue to wise up and keep finding new and creative ways to get Ekeler on the field as the season goes on.
I mean, and dare I say it, but good teams usually want their best running back on the field, right?