COSTA MESA, Calif. (AP)Austin Ekeler has already accomplished his primary goal of getting the Los Angeles Chargers back to the playoffs.
With two regular season games remaining, Ekeler has a couple personal milestones to chase.
Ekeler leads the NFL with 16 touchdowns for the playoff-bound Chargers (10-5), who host the Los Angeles Rams in the battle of SoFi Stadium co-tenants on Sunday. Ekeler tied for the league lead with 20 TDs last season.
”It’s nice to have a playoff spot wrapped up, but I still want to play. I want to continue to add on to what I’ve been doing throughout the entire season,” Ekeler said.
Ekeler scored both Chargers TDs in Monday night’s 20-3 win at Indianapolis, which wrapped up LA’s first postseason berth since 2018. It also made the multi-faceted running back the fourth player in the last 15 years with at least 15 scrimmage touchdowns in two straight seasons.
He has a chance to become the sixth player in league history with two straight seasons of at least 20 scrimmage scores.
The last player to do that was Hall of Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson during the 2005 and ’06 seasons for the Chargers.
Going into Sunday, Ekeler also needs one catch to become the fifth running back in NFL history with 100 receptions in a season. He is fourth in the league with 99 receptions and is eighth with 1,406 scrimmage yards.
Even though Ekeler’s strength is catching the ball out of the backfield, he has also excelled running it in the red zone. Of his 36 touchdowns in the past two seasons, 23 have been rushing.
Ekeler has had rushing and receiving TDs in the same game four times this season.
”I’m getting the ball in different ways, and it’s up to me to try to make something happen with it,” he said. ”I don’t really have a preference. However, I’m getting in the end zone is great.”
Ekeler struggled early this season. He didn’t score in the first three games and was averaging only 2.5 yards per carry. Things began to turn around when he scored three times in an Oct. 3 victory at Houston. Ekeler rushed for a career-high 173 yards one week later at Cleveland and added two more touchdowns.
Even though Ekeler’s yards per carry and per reception are down from past years, his durability has been a big reason why the Chargers’ season did not go off the rails when injuries sidelined wide receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams.
”He is just a total stabilizer. He got off to that little bit of a slow start, but then in Houston, he really hit that gear, and then he has been kind of going fantasy crazy since then in terms of the production,” coach Brandon Staley said. ”You just can’t say enough about him, the way he is running the football, the way he catches the football, the way that he protects the passer, and the way he does it day in and day out as a running back in the league.”
The Chargers will face a Rams defense that is ranked fifth-best at stopping the run at 104.5 yards per game. Rams linebacker Bobby Wagner said they have to account for Ekeler no matter where he is on the field.
”I think he’s a lot more powerful than people give him credit for. They get him out in the backfield, and he’s on all routes. He’s somebody you have to be conscious of,” Wagner said. ”He’s not like a traditional running back where you hand the ball off to him, and that’s how he gets his touches. They’re going to put you in different situations to kind of isolate linebackers and try to have one-on-one guys to try to make them miss.”
NOTES: The Chargers did not practice on Wednesday after getting back from Indianapolis early Tuesday morning. Players had meetings and a conditioning session. … Staley said safety Derwin James remains in the concussion protocol after hitting Colts receiver Ashton Dulin with the crown of his helmet. James was ejected after the play.
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