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Austin Ekeler Looking For Chargers' Ground Game to Pickup in Week With Uncertainty at Quarterback

Austin Ekeler talks about the importance of establishing a firm running game.

COSTA MESA – Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert suffered a fracture to his rib cartilage last week in Kansas City, putting his availability for Week 3 in question. Head coach Brandon Staley said Wednesday that his star quarterback is considered day-to-day.

Herbert finished the game on Thursday Night Football, but that doesn't go without saying, it was quite clear the pain he was having to overcome just to get passes off late in the fourth quarter.

If Herbert plays in Week 3, he'll wear a rib protector for further support of his midsection. 

"I've played with cracked rib before too, and when you get to the game, it's a game day decision," running back Austin Ekeler said. "Are you able to go, are you physically able to, are you safe, physically? And then can you endure what can actually happen? And can we actually get you in a spot where you feel like you can actually perform?"

Ekeler fielded questions at his locker Wednesday afternoon, showing great appreciation for his quarterback as he gutted out last week's game in excruciating pain. 

Among the things Ekeler is looking to achieve in Week 3 regardless of who takes the snaps under center for the Chargers come Sunday, is pickup the rushing attack.

"We're always trying to run the ball, regardless if he's healthy or not," Ekeler said. "Because if you can run the ball, it makes it so much easier on your offense. It's less risky, there's less risk in running the ball. Most turnovers come through interceptions."

Ekeler, who led the NFL with 20 touchdowns last season, has yet to find the end zone this year. His usage within the offense through two weeks has seen a downtick, seeing 56% of the offensive snaps compared to last year where he played 65%.

He's been accompanied by Sony Michel and Joshua Kelley in the backfield, forming a trio of rushers who the Chargers have deployed through the early goings. As a rushing unit, the Chargers have struggled to find their groove. Through two weeks, the team has averaged 76 rushing yards per game and 2.8 yards per carry.

"It comes down to the same thing we try to fix every single week. It's all on our consistency and our fundamentals," Ekeler said on what changes they can make during the week to enhance their running game. "All the plays in the NFL are made within the fundamentals and then anything on top of that is your given ability. It starts with what we practice every single day."

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The Chargers will face a Jaguars' defensive front who's stopped the run at a high clip in week's one and two. Jacksonville has held opponents to an average of 70 rushing yards per game, which sits as the third-best in the NFL.

If Herbert's rib injury holds him out of this week's contest, the Chargers will turn to backup quarterback Chase Daniel to run the offense. Now in his 13th NFL season, Daniel has made five starts throughout his career, holding a 2-3 record.

"Chase, I feel like is a vet. He knows the offense as much as as much as Justin does," Ekeler said. "He's been around [offensive coordinator Joe] Lombardi for a really long time. So if Chase is out there I'm still happy, still thumbs up. We'll get it done with Chase as well."

The Jaguars hold the biggest turnover differential in the NFL at +4. They've forced a total of six turnovers in games against the Commanders and Colts, coming away with five interceptions and one fumble recovery.

The Chargers have turned the ball over one time this season. Against the Jaguars, a team who's had great success in taking the ball away, the Chargers will need to continue emphasizing ball security as they've done in the games prior.

"They've been doing a good job of getting turnovers. I saw the stat line of six turnovers. That's one of the biggest stat lines that determines winning or losing the game is turnovers," Ekeler said. "We've been doing a pretty good job of hanging onto the ball over here. We got to keep that going and I think we'll be able to even up the playing field."


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Nick Cothrel is the publisher of Charger Report. Follow Nick on Twitter @NickCothrel for more Chargers coverage.