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5 Takeaways: Ekeler, Bolts Ground Game Go Off in Week 5


The Chargers are 3-2 after a wild 30-28 road win against the Browns.

Here are five takeaways from Week 5:

1. Bolts run game thrives

The Chargers ran for 238 yards and averaged exactly seven yards per carry Sunday in Cleveland.

The reaction from Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley?

"It was the story of the game for us," Staley said.

Entering Week 5, the Bolts hadn't rushed for 100 yards all season, last hitting that mark in Week 17 against the Broncos. And the Chargers hadn't ran for 200 yards in a game since Week 8 of the 2020 season, which also came against Denver.

But on Sunday, the Bolts did pretty much anything they want on the ground.

Austin Ekeler ran for a career-high 173 yards, highlighted by a 71-yard scamper in the first quarter that was a career long.

The Chargers running back, who found the end zone on a 22-yard run in the third quarter, did fine even if you take away that massive gain. On his 15 other carries, he ran for 102 yards.

"We come out with a plan and rarely do things stay to plan, it's more so go out there, have an idea and then react to what happens," Ekeler said. 'We had an emphasis today like, 'Hey, we are going to get the run game going.'

"We didn't do anything different than we have in the past, right?," Ekeler added. "Just continue to stay with it, continue to trust it and finally put some product on the filed in the run game today."

Joshua Kelley added 49 yards and a score on 10 attempts. Between those two backs, they ran for 222 yards on just 26 attempts … good for 8.6 yards per attempt.

"It was the story of the game for us. We came in here and certainly there were a lot of questions about us being able to run the ball in the first four games," Staley said. "We had a lot of confidence in the plan, a lot of confidence in who's running the ball and who's blocking for them.

Chargers right tackle Trey Pipkins III said the Bolts were determined to run the ball Sunday.

Entering the game, the Chargers ranked last in the league in rushing yards per game, while the Browns were second.

"I think there was an aggressive mindset because Cleveland is known for how they run the ball," Pipkins said. "We were sick of hearing about it and we were excited to go out there and show that we could run the ball, too."

Staley added: "We don't want to be looked at as a passing team. I think our guys were tired of hearing that because that's not what we believe internally. We just needed to play together more and find our rhythm. We really believe in how we want to run the ball. We just needed more time on task. I thought you saw that today."

2. No regrets on 4th-and-1 call

You shouldn't be surprised by Staley's late-game decision to go for it on fourth down.

Facing fourth-and-1 at the Chargers 45-yard line with 74 ticks left, Staley kept his offense on the field.

The play was unsuccessful, as Justin Herbert couldn't connect with Mike Williams with rookie Martin Emerson, Jr., in coverage. But given the chance to do it again, Staley said he wouldn't hesitate to keep his offense on the field.

"You know where I stand on that. We believe in our process. We believe in our players on both sides," Staley said. "We were coming out here on the road to win this game, not [punt] it and then go hope to win. I believed our defense would get a stop if we didn't make it because I knew that we could cover them.

"You have to live with it when it doesn't go down. We went for it on the first drive and it didn't go down, and we're willing to live with that," Staley added. "We know what that means to our group and playing that way. There was no way I was taking our offense out of the field at the end of the game."

And nobody on the Bolts sideline was surprised when the Chargers went for it.

"We are with them," Derwin James, Jr., said: "We are going for it. Even though they didn't get it, so what?

"We have to go out there and get a stop. It's on us to get the stop, we believe in our offense, we are going to go for it again," James added. "We don't care."

James later added:

"No, I don't regret it. We don't regret it as a defense, we had our helmets right there just in case they didn't get it," James said. "We believe in our offense and we are going to keep believing in them. Like I said when you got No. 10 at quarterback and you got the O-line we got, why not go for it."

According to multiple metrics, Staley made the right call.

"I love the way that our team finished that game. Obviously, the storybook would have been just to finish it right there and walk to victory lane, but that's not how it went," Staley said. "We had to go play defense. We had to go defend and our defense ended up winning us the game with that stop at the end of the game."

3. Ups and downs against the Browns ground game

As mentioned above, the Browns entered Sunday with a bruising rushing attack.

And they were as advertised, rushing for 213 yards and three scores on 31 attempts, good for an average of 6.9 yards per attempt.

"They are who they are, and we knew that coming in," said defensive tackle Christian Covington said. "At the end of the day, too, sometimes we knew exactly what they were going to run.

"But hey, they are a talented group, they are one of the best in the NFL at running the ball and we knew that going into it," Covington added.

Cleveland started hot with 97 rushing yards on 10 carries in the first quarter, including a 41-yard run from Nick Chubb.

And while the Bolts gave up a few more explosive runs the rest of the way, they managed to hold their own against a vaunted ground game.

"At the end of the day you can never press the panic mode, you cannot press the panic button ever in a game," Covington said. "When we knew that it wasn't starting off pretty we all looked at each other and said 'Hey, it's not about how we start, it's a about how we finish the game.' 

"You know what, there were moments where it wasn't pretty," Covington added. "There were moments where it was looking really good from a defensive standpoint, but all  know is we are going to take this win."

James said: "It was by far the best rushing attack that we've seen. We could've play it better in some spots because we gave up a lot of those explosive runs. In the second quarter we kind of settled in, third quarter we kind of played good. We just got to play better on defense, hats off to the offense for helping us out today."

4. A timely timeout

The Bolts didn't convert on their fourth-and-1 call late in the game, but Cleveland was also stuffed on their try with just under nine minutes left in the third quarter.

On fourth-and-1 at their own 34, the Browns kept their offense on the field.

Stakley, however, called a smart timeout.

"We had a guy who shouldn't have been on the field that was on the field," Staley said. "We needed to get the right amount on the field and get the right grouping on there. That was a huge play in the second half."

Covington, who had been on the sideline, entered the game and lined up near the ball.

And a few seconds later, he corralled Kareem Hunt in the backfield for a 4-yard loss.

"My mindset was to execute the call that was given to us," Covington said. "Honestly man, we all came alive. The entire defensive line came alive that play and we got it done, we got it done when we needed to throughout this game.

"It wasn't a pretty game, it was a nice little highlight for a 4th-and-1 stop, but throughout the game we already know that there were a lot of things that we need to improve and correct," Covington added.

The Bolts would add a 25-yard field goal a few minutes after this stop ... a massive three points in an eventual 30-28 win.

5. Mike Williams shines again

A round of applause for Mike Williams, who continues to shine despite the offense missing Keenan Allen.

Williams had 10 catches for 134 yards in Cleveland, and has now registered 100-plus receiving yards in five straight road games. That's tied for the longest streak in history by an AFC player with former Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson.

Williams did it all against the Browns, catching a 38-yard pass in the first half on a 50-50 ball, while also slithering for 19 yards (and staying in bounds) late in the fourth quarter to help milk the clock.

"He just has so much toughness … he has been our offense outside," Staley said. "He's there for us in every single game.

"He has all the competitive traits that you're looking for in a football player. Then as a receiver, as you're seeing, this guy can win 1-on-1," Staley added. "He can win a lot of different places. Like I said, when Mike Williams touches the ball, it's good for us."

Herbert added: "He is a competitor and the game changes when he is out there. Third down, you have to be alert for him. We think so highly of him in man coverage, finding the sweet spots in the zones because he is a smart player. He is super athletic and has done a great job stepping up and being a leader the past couple of weeks. It has been awesome to see."

For what it's worth, Williams' stat line probably should have been bigger, but his 22-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter was overturned after replay review.

"We thought so, too, [that there were two toes down], but they said toe-heel," Staley said. "That was the explanation given to me. Not toe-toe; it was toe-heel."

No worries, Ekeler scored on the ground on the ensuing play.

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