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Chargers hoping to establish run game early against Rams

September 19, 2018
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Los Angeles Chargers' Austin Ekeler, right, evades a tackle by Buffalo Bills' Lafayette Pitts during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 16, 2018, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)

COSTA MESA, Calif. (AP) — The Los Angeles Chargers haven’t needed to rely too much on their run game during their first two games, but that might change on Sunday against the unbeaten Rams.

The Chargers (1-1) have called runs on 37.5 percent of their plays the first two weeks, which is the fifth-lowest percentage in the AFC. Despite that, they are averaging 116 yards, which is above the league average of 104 yards.

In other words, Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler aren’t getting a lot of carries, but they are making the most of their plays.

“They’ve been very effective,” offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt said. “It’s been a tremendous help for us because it opens up other things like play action.”

Gordon has only 24 carries, which is his lowest total for the first two games in his four-year career, but he is tied for the team lead in receptions with 15. Gordon had the second three-touchdown game of his career in last week’s 31-20 win at Buffalo, with two TDs coming on catches. He’s also gained over 100 yards from scrimmage in six of his last eight games dating to last season.

While the quarterback matchup between the Chargers’ Philip Rivers and the Rams’ Jared Goff is attracting plenty of attention, the running back battle between Gordon and Todd Gurley is tantalizing as well. Both were drafted in the first round in 2015, with Gurley having the advantage so far. He led the league in yards from scrimmage last season with 2,093 while Gordon was fifth (1,581).

“We compete. It’s not like we hate each other. We both want to prove we are the best back and it happens that we compete in the same city,” Gordon said.

Ekeler had a career-high 77 yards on 11 carries in last week’s win at Buffalo. Three of his longest carries came on runs off the left side.

Whisenhunt continues to find different ways to use the second-year back. In the opener against Kansas City, Ekeler caught a 13-yard touchdown while last week he was getting most of the carries.

“They are starting to use both of us in different ways and it has been working,” Ekeler said. “It’s going to be important again this week because they have a real solid front five. If we can get the run game going early that can help us in play action.”

The Chargers have a lot of experience facing a Wade Phillips defense. They faced Phillips twice a year when he was with Denver in 2015-16.

The Rams have one of the best interior pass rushes in the league with Ndamukong Suh and Aaron Donald at the tackles. They also have gone 12 straight games without allowing a 100-yard rusher.

One of the best matchups could be center Mike Pouncey going up against Suh. The two went up against each other often during practices in Miami the past three seasons.

“That’s going to make things a lot easier for me and a lot of other guys,” Gordon said of Pouncey. “You have a bully like that up front that ain’t scared to back down, that gets them other guys going.”

Pouncey, who is in his first season in Los Angeles after seven seasons in Miami, said getting the run game going early is going to be vitally important this week.

“Any time you can run the ball it keeps us on schedule,” he said. “We have been over 100 yards in each game, which is something to build off of.”

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Follow Joe Reedy at www.twitter.com/joereedy

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