LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles Chargers coach Brandon Staley said Monday there is no timetable for running back Austin Ekeler’s return.
Ekeler, who has led the NFL in touchdowns the past two seasons, injured his ankle in the Chargers’ Week 1 loss to the Miami Dolphins. He didn’t practice last week and missed Sunday’s loss to the Tennessee Titans.
Ekeler has been one of the most reliable players on the Chargers’ offense. Against the Dolphins, he amassed 117 rushing yards and one touchdown and had five catches for 47 yards.
Playing without Ekeler against the Titans, the Chargers’ running backs totaled just 61 rushing yards.
Without Ekeler, the Chargers will rely on Joshua Kelley, who finished with 39 yards rushing and one passing target Sunday. Since joining the Chargers in 2020, Kelley has played eight games without Ekeler and has not scored a touchdown in those games.
Kelley’s highest rushing total in games without Ekeler came during Sunday’s loss; Kelley has never had more than 24 receiving yards in such games.
Since Ekeler debuted in 2017, the Chargers are 49-41 when he plays and 3-7 when he does not play. The Chargers average 3 more points per game when Ekeler plays compared to when he doesn’t over that same span.
The good news for the Chargers is that their opponent this Sunday, the Minnesota Vikings, has fielded one of the worst rushing defenses in the NFL. The Vikings have given up 326 yards, third most in the NFL, most recently allowing 175 yards to Philadelphia Eagles running back D’Andre Swift on Thursday.
So Kelley and the Chargers’ other running backs, Elijah Dotson and Isaiah Spiller, have a good opportunity to be productive without Ekeler against a struggling defense.
The Chargers will look to avoid beginning the season 0-3. Since the 1970 merger, there have been six teams that have made the playoffs after starting 0-3: the 2018 Texans, 1998 Bills, 1995 Lions, 1992 Chargers, 1982 Buccaneers and 1981 Jets.
It would be the second time in the past 15 seasons the Chargers have begun a season with three losses. The last was in 2017, when they finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs.
The Chargers were competitive in their losses to the Dolphins and Titans; both were within three points, with chances late for Los Angeles to win both games. But the Chargers were expected to be contenders this season and made changes in the offseason to ensure that.
They fired their offensive coordinator, Joe Lombardi, after their meltdown against the Jacksonville Jaguars in last season’s playoffs, and hired offensive coordinator Kellen Moore. They rewarded quarterback Justin Herbert with a five-year, $262 million deal, spent a first-round pick on wide receiver Quentin Johnston and signed veteran linebacker Eric Kendricks.
Staley said he believes his team has the right mentality despite starting the season 0-2.
“I think that people believe in the type of players we have, the type of coaches that we have … to make good things happen moving forward,” Staley said Monday. “And we just need to stay consistent with our process and consistent with the people out there on the field, and good things are going to happen for us.”