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Bolts Run Game Focused on Bringing Balance in Jacksonville 


Below are three takeaways from Chargers Offensive Coordinator Joe Lombardi, Defensive Coordinator Renaldo Hill, running back Austin Ekeler, running back Joshua Kelley and more from Wednesday's media sessions:

Offensive balance 'important' in road playoff game

When the Bolts offense heads to play in Jacksonville on Saturday, the running game will once again be an X-factor.

The Chargers ability to run the ball has been something that's been up and down throughout the year, but now that it's January, it will need to be an area the team needs to find success in.

Chargers Offensive Coordinator Joe Lombardi knows that creating a balance against a defensive line like the Jaguars is necessary to put themselves in a position to win.

"I think it is very important, especially against a front like this," Lombardi said. "They're a good pass-rushing group. You don't want them to just tee off every single play, getting after the quarterback. Balance is important."

It's especially important against a Jacksonville defense that continues to take advantage of big plays. In Week 18, their game-changing play came on a strip-sack that was returned for a touchdown.

It was their fourth defensive touchdown of the season, which was the third-most during the 2022 season.

"We got to limit that," running back Austin Ekeler said about the Jaguars defense making big plays. "We got to make sure we limit their big plays, make them have to go through us, make them have to forcibly get through us as far as we're not giving them anything.

"It really comes down to us, making sure that we're on our details, not turning the ball over, not having negative plays," Ekeler added.

After having a big game on the ground in the regular season finale against the Rams, the Bolts struggled last week against the Broncos.

It's been an up and down year running the ball, and oftentimes running it when the team is behind can make it even more difficult. It was apparent in the Week 3 matchup between these two teams, as the Jaguars got ahead early and the Chargers finished with a total of 26 rushing yards on just 12 attempts.

Getting out to an early lead or keeping it close is another area the run game can help as they hope to stay consistent throughout the game.

"I think the biggest thing with that is consistency," Kelley said about the run game. "It's kind of tough because sometimes when you're behind, you can't really establish it the way you want to because you have to play catch up.

"But I feel like when we're those times where we're winning or kind of in the middle, I feel like we're really consistent with calling some runs," Kelley added. "I feel like it's paid off this year. I think it's just consistency."

Playing behind on the road adds another challenge, as becoming one dimensional can let the defense pin their ears and open up your offense to negative plays.

"It's critical, especially on the road," Kelley said. "A lot of teams, when you go on the road and can't really run the football, it becomes one dimensional. Then, the team knows you're passing and then the crowd gets into it, now it's blitzes and now we start playing behind the 8-ball.

"I think we have to be able to run the ball this week, kind of establish it early and get these guys kind of on their heels whether we're going to run or pass," Kelley added.

Check out the best photos of the Chargers Wednesday practice at Hoag Performance Center

Ficken praises Dicker's steady approach

One of the many Chargers players making their playoff debut this Saturday is kicker Cameron Dicker, who has been everything the team has asked for since he arrived.

Dicker was 19-of-20 on field goals in 10 regular season games with the Bolts, including two game-winners. Brought in near the middle of the season after injuries to two kickers, he has settled into the position and will kick in the playoffs as a rookie.

Chargers Special Teams Coordinator Ryan Ficken isn't worried about Dicker being a rookie heading into the playoffs though, as his consistent composure and mental toughness throughout the year has shined.

"His approach to everything is not too big for him," Ficken said. "He's just 'Steady Eddie,' really consistent in everything he does. Not too high and not too low. We love that.

"And he's a pro. He's not a rookie, doesn't act like a rookie," Ficken added. "I'm excited about his mindset. We know about his physical attributes and his skillset, but I love his mental game."

Dicker remains perfect on all 22 extra point attempts throughout his time with the team and has become another reliable weapon on special teams. His hard work and rapport with long snapper Josh Harris and holder JK Scott has translated into his success in his first season in the NFL.

"Cam has done nothing but come in here and be a professional and make his kicks," Harris said. "That's what we fully expect him to keep doing. He's done a great job since he's been here, and he's worked really hard."

A two-time Special Teams Player of the Week award winner, Dicker has become another reliable piece in a special teams unit that has been a consistent strong point of the team.

Bolts talk challenges Etienne presents

An NFL season can go by fast, but also have a lot of things happen in it. That's exactly what happened with Jaguars running back Travis Etienne, who continued to gain steam in the Jacksonville backfield as the season progressed.

Etienne spent the first matchup splitting carries with James Robinson, who is now on the New York Jets. As the season went on, Etienne became the feature back in Jacksonville and was a key player in the late-season run the team went on.

Chargers Defensive Coordinator Renaldo Hill talked about the type of back Etienne is and the challenges he presents this time around.

"He is a back that can do it all," Hill said about Etienne. "He can run in-between the tackles. He is great in the passing game. He is good in pass protection. There's a reason why he was drafted with a first-round pick. He's a talent.

"I think it took him a little bit of time at the beginning of the year, coming off that injury, to get going, but once he got going, you really saw his talent shine through," Hill added. "He is a feature guy for them."

Despite starting the season splitting carries, Etienne finished with the ninth-most rushing yards in the league (1,125) and totaled 1,441 yards from scrimmage. One of the fastest running backs in the league, he is also elusive and a player the Bolts are well-aware of.

"It's someone you have to be a sure tackler on," Chargers defensive lineman Morgan Fox said. "You have to be ready to come downhill on wherever he's at and meet him in the hole because he will try to run people over just as much as he's going to try to shake people.

"He's a talented back and he's definitely became a weapon for them," Fox added. "It's someone you definitely have to look out for."

The Chargers defense came on late this season, as their play was one of the main reasons for the playoff push.

They had a lot of tough tasks during the stretch, and Etienne will be another that they know they will have to be prepared for given the amount of different ways he can receive the ball.

"We know that they are going to get him in space, going to get him in screen opportunities, in between the tackles, outside the tackles," Hill said. "He's a mismatch guy.

"Like I said, they have a lot of guys on that offensive side of their scheme and they are going to do a good job of making sure that they feature and highlight them in everything that they do," Hill added.

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