Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn wants to get back to running the ball. Simple as that. Since being hired in 2017, Lynn has always believed that if you run the ball well and consistently, that will open the passing game.
For two and three-fourths of a game, Lynn hasn't had his number one running back in Austin Ekeler. He suffered a hamstring injury in week four against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
He wants someone to step up in his absence.
"I've challenged guys in that room to step up and make plays," said Lynn. "I'm looking for someone to take over the backfield and right now. Just throwing a guy here. Throwing guy in there. I want someone to get in and get into a rhythm and just take over that backfield."
The Bolts have two running backs that are capable of taking over. First is third-year back Justin Jackson. He had a promising rookie year in 2018 but dealt with several injuries in 2019. This season he has missed two games with injuries. In three of the four games, he has carried the ball 13 times for 25 yards. In week five against the New Orleans Saints, Jackson really ran the ball hard. He had 15 carries for 71 yards.
Next is rookie Joshua Kelley. The UCLA product started strong in his first two games, rushing for 124 yards on 35 carries. He hit a rough patch against the Carolina Panthers when he fumbled for the first time in his NFL career. The next week, he fumbled right before halftime against the Buccaneers.
Lynn has said numerous times he believes in both backs.
It is no secret that since the Ekeler injury, some of the running game stats have fallen.
"I know our yards per carry averages isn't great, but we're still going for 100 a game," said offensive coordinator Shane Steichen. "So, the guys are doing a good job up front. I really do. They're blocking hard. We're moving the football, and we got to continue that trend. Obviously, like I said, if we can pop one or two big ones, your average per carry always goes up."
One of the biggest differences from the first two games is that the team has had a revolving door on the offensive line's right side. It was supposed to be Trai Turner at right guard and Bryan Bulaga at right tackle. Turner has suited up for one game while Bulaga has technically played in three games but only finished the week one game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
According to football outsiders, the Bolts run game has been stuff 19 percent of the time they run the football.
"I think that happens, it's football sometimes," explained Steichen. "And you got to overcome those things going forward, and we got to get better."
The Bolts are averaging 124.5 yards a game, which is middle of the pack in the NFL. Last Sunday, against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Chargers had over 160 rushing yards, but 66 of those yards came from rookie quarterback Justin Herbert.
"I think most of those runs weren't designated quarterback runs," said Herbert. "So, I think those are broken downplays, or zone reads. And so, it's definitely not something that we're prioritizing, trying to run the ball with me. But anytime I can be safe, get out of bounds slide, and get some yards. I think that helps us on offense."
He had a great read-option against the Jags on Sunday in the team's first drive. He puts the ball right into Kelley's gut notices the cornerback crash in to try to tackle him, so Herbert pulls the ball and takes off 31 yards.
This week they face a challenging task going up against the Denver Broncos and their top-notch defense. One way to attack their defense is by running the football. They have allowed 109 yards per game, which is top ten in the NFL. The Bolts could help open up the passing game this weekend if they can run the ball.
"I'm just looking for someone that can go in and make plays," said Lynn. "Create when you have to. Take what the (offensive) line gives you. Those type of things just execution, some consistency at the position."