Mac Jones, Justin Herbert, Bill Belichick, and Brandon Staley. The New England Patriots and its rookie quarterback travel West to take on the Los Angeles Chargers and its sophomore stud quarterback. One team has an up-and-coming head coach; the other has one of the greatest head coaches.
LA is coming off the bye week after a stellar 4-2 start to the year (let’s forget the thrashing against the Baltimore Ravens), and the Patriots just walloped Zach Wilson and the New York Jets for the second time before Halloween.
Herbert is firing on all cylinders and has the Chargers toward the top of the AFC West. Still, a recent update regarding star running back Austin Ekeler is terrible music to the ears of Brandon Staley and the SoFi Stadium residents.
Austin Ekeler misses practice on Thursday with a hip injury
The Chargers are fresh off their bye week and generally well-rested and recovered from a brutal six-game stretch to start the season. However, the latest update had Ekeler missing practice on Thursday with a hip injury.
Yes, this is a shocking development for several reasons. First off, Ekeler had not been mentioned of any injury over the past two weeks. Furthermore, Ekeler was not on the practice report at all on Wednesday.
This is concerning for the Chargers and Herbert, who will likely have to heave even more passes if the dynamic running back can’t get healthy before Sunday.
All eyes will be peeled on the Ekeler front until Sunday rolls along for both Chargers fans and fantasy football players.
Bill Belichick and the Patriots will sleep a lot better if Ekeler is unavailable
A lot can change before Sunday, but the fact of the matter is that Ekeler’s status is up in the air. As if dealing and planning for the Patriots aren’t challenging enough, now the Chargers and offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi will work on an alternate game plan as a contingency plan.
Even with the Patriots in a bit of a youthful movement, they still find a way to frustrate opposing offenses. On the other hand, the Chargers offensive unit is scary, with Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Jared Cook, and Herbert leading the charge.
But the absence of Ekeler would be a massive one to overcome. On the year, the shifty running back has 356 yards rushing and 242 yards in the receiving game with a total of seven scores. He does it all, and things might get ugly if he cannot suit up on Sunday.
Belichick and the Patriots’ defense should have a much easier time game planning without Ekeler. However, the Chargers still have a ton of options on offense, and Herbert himself is a budding star in this league.
The next man up for the Chargers is a hot topic this week
Ironically enough, a day before Ekeler landed on the injury report, he sounded off on the rest of the running back group (h/t Daniel Popper of The Athletic).
“Someone’s got to step up.”Austin Ekeler on the Chargers RB room
He’s right. It hasn’t been pretty, and if he can’t go, who knows what the workload split looks like. After Ekeler, it has been a mixture of Justin Jackson, Joshua Kelley, and rookie Larry Rountree. None of those running backs have eclipsed 100 yards total on the year.
The next leading rusher is Herbert, with 72 yards. Kelley, the Chargers’ third-round choice in 2020, has suited up in just two games. Jackson has appeared in five, but those two have combined for just 16 carries and 46 yards on the year.
Now might be the time for somebody to step up if Ekeler is out for Sunday. The next couple of days will be crucial for the Chargers, and being without the starting back would be a crucial blow for Staley’s group.
UPDATE: Ekeler was also absent from practice on Friday, putting his status for Sunday’s game in serious jeopardy.
Stats Courtesy of Pro Football Reference