Every game comes with its unique stakes for each player and this week we get to watch some familiar faces return, a rookie getting his first shot and two running backs looking to continue a run of success. As the Chargers square off against the Texans on Sunday, these are the matchups and storylines I am going to be keeping my eye on.
As soon as Melvin Gordon started his holdout, Austin Ekeler has taken the starting running back position and hasn’t looked back. In his first two games in a starting role, he has averaged 143.5 yards from scrimmage and scored four total touchdowns. He would have had another had he not fumbled on the 1-yard-line last week.
The former undrafted player has been the workhorse playing on 97 out of the teams 131 offensive snaps through two weeks. Now he gets a chance to go up against a Texans defense that has given up a whopping 6.0 yards per carry this year. Ekeler also leads all NFL running backs in receiving yards (163) and Houston just allowed Alvin Kamara and Leonard Fournette to combine for 11 catches for 112 yards. Ekeler has been superb so far and has a really good matchup to be productive again this week.
The Chargers re-signed Denzel Perryman to a two-year $10 million deal in the off-season, and the reason to watch is that it should be his first action defensively this year. Anthony Lynn has said its been his best week of practice since coming back from surgery and that he will get some snaps on Sunday. The team has struggled to stop the run and tackle so far this year and that is the former Miami Hurricane’s special.
The linebacker has had injuries derail his short career, never playing a full sixteen-game season. His impact when on the field has never been questioned. When fully healthy, Perryman plays like he eats glass and is never afraid to get physical and take on an offensive lineman at the point of attack. He is not a three-down linebacker but it will be interesting to see if he helps the chargers on early downs and short-yardage situations.
Two running backs on the players to watch for? Yes. As impressive as Ekeler has been, Justin Jackson has been the best runner of the football this year. Jackson has been instant offense for the Chargers this season averaging a league-high 8.9 yards per carry. It would be even more ridiculous had Dontrelle Inman not been penalized on his 60-yard touchdown scamper last week.
Last year’s 7th-round pick is also tied for first in 20+ yard rushes (3) on only 13 attempts, according to ESPN, while the Texans allow a league-worst 4.52 yards before contact. Somehow Ekeler has been fantastic, and it still seems like Justin Jackson needs to be on the field more.
Roderic Teamer was one of the real surprises during training camp and preseason to the point that the undrafted free agent was almost a lock to make the roster. Now, with the injuries to Derwin James and Adrian Phillips, Teamer is in line to be the starting strong safety come Sunday. Coach Lynn is confident in Teamer’s ability, but also pointed out his youth and said they would make a switch if he struggles early.
One thing the coaching staff has gushed about is his versatility. In three preseason games, Teamer lined up all over the field including corner and defensive line, even recording half a sack. Now, he’s going up against real NFL talent and being asked to compete with Deshaun Watson and Deandre Hopkins. Injuries opened the door for the rookie but now he has to go out there and prove that he belongs.
The Money Badger has a chance to make his return this week after fully practicing this week. Lynn has said that the team will see how he looks in pre-game warmups before they make their decision. Punter Ty Long has handled the placekicking so far this season and had two crucial missed field goals against the Lions. Although, it’s hard to blame Lynn as Long hit on 88% of his field goals in his time in the CFL. The last two seasons, the five kickers not named Mike Badgley made only 67% of their kicks. That’s worse than Roberto Aguayo’s horrific rookie season.
Badgley took over midway through last season and finished as the fourth-most accurate kicker in the league. He even made a franchise-record 61-yarder. Ty Long is an awesome punter, but the Chargers have to hope they can get Badgley’s consistency back this week.