As summer turns into fall the conversations around NFL running backs has predictably shifted from how teams value them to how valuable they are to teams.
If Austen Ekeler felt "obligated" to play out the last year of his contract (which he has absolutely outperformed) then how much more obligation did the team feel to put the ball in his hands last week against the Dolphins? The Chargers incentivized Ekeler with twenty touches in the opener and he rewarded them with 117 yards rushing (7.3 yards average) and 47 yards on 4 catches (11.8 average). He also scored a touchdown.
The Chargers might have given him more opportunities late had he not had his ankle rolled up on in the 3rd quarter. For one week at least, Ekeler cashed in on the new offense called by coordinator Kellen Moore.
In Tennessee, the fanbase is looking mutinous after a game where Derek Henry saw the field less than rookie Tyjae Spears, despite Henry playing like his freakish self in the first half and the Titans losing by a single point.
The Titans are also breaking in Tim Kelly, a new play caller who they hoped would diversify their offense. For context the Dolphins had more punts (1) than the Titans had touchdowns (0) last week; it can only get better from here.
Working King Henry into a lather seems like a good place to start against a Chargers defense that been languid against the run over head coach Brandon Staley's tenure, to put it mildly.
Henry, who entered the league in 2016, is the active career rushing leader now that Frank Gore has finally retired—we think. (Take a peek at the career rushing leader board and feel free to gasp at the cumulative mileage Gore covered over his sixteen year career.)
The King should pass Houston Oilers legend Earl Campbell's career rushing mark (9,407) this season if he remains healthy.
Longevity amongst running backs is as scarce as parking in Hollywood. Campbell's career was finished at the age of 30. Henry turns 30 in January and the murmuring of his demise began in earnest two years ago when he broke a bone in his foot and missed the second half of the season.
The idea of Henry sticking around long enough to challenge the career marks of Walter Payton (16,726), Emmitt Smith (18,355), or even LaDainian Tomlinson (13,684) is now understood through the context of a million analytics nerds snickering. A general manager who pays a running back north of thirty is malfeasant.
The modern running back is disposable; his birthdate is used against him as though he was dating Leonardo DiCaprio. This is a passing league, we are told, and to win games you must be able to throw the ball better than the other team does.
Before assuming that because Justin Herbert and the Chargers have the advantage at quarterback and should win allow me to point out that having the superior, quarterback means little when these clubs collide. The series has had some bizarre results over the years: Jake Locker beating Philip Rivers in 2013. Ryan Leaf beating Steve McNair in 1998. John Friesz coming off the bench to beat Warren Moon in 1993. Gifford Nielson beating Dan Fouts in a playoff game in 1979.
So, has the passing game really made running the ball anathema? The truth is somewhere in between. The days of the bell-cow back may be gone, but as long as teams invite the running game by playing light boxes then efficient offenses will continue to put the ball in their running back's hands—even if they don't feel the need to pay them accordingly.
Have shell coverages resurrected the ground game, and can Ekeler and, more likely Joshua Kelly outpace Henry and Spears? We asked our producers for some fun Chargers vs. Titans football predictions for Week 2 of the 2023 NFL season . Here's what they said:
Bolt Bros Podcast
The "Broracle" reads the runes.
MANNAZ. Judging from the previous game we should be hyped about Kellen Moore. This offense was explosive. URUZ. Committing to increasing our strength on the defense should be the focus against the Titans. ODIN. Our path is clear we can succeed if we trust in ourselves and the Football Gods, but we must prove our worth.
Chargers 38-28 Titans
Bolted Up Tailgaters
Aaron Vrabel (Season Record 0-1)
Starting off the season 0-1 is not ideal but the Dolphins game may have been a
preview of a playoff matchup in January. We are moving on.
The Chargers are 3 point favorites traveling to Tennessee this week. I expect the Chargers to bounce back against Philip Rivers' old punching bag: the Tennessee Titans. Back in 2007, I witnessed the dirtiest football game I have ever seen. Titans quarterback Vince Young ran into Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman.
The perceived slight prompted then head coach Jeff Fisher to call a hit on Merriman in retaliation. A few plays later Titans center Kevin Mawae and their tackle mauled Merriman half a field from the play; the beginning of the end of Merriman's career. The Chargers went on to win that game and subsequently beat them that same year in the playoffs, but Merriman was never the same explosive pass rusher again.
I hold grudges.
This is no longer the Jeff Fisher coached Titans but they are still a dirty team thanks to Mike Vrabel—the same Mike Vrabel who leg whipped an ACL-less Philip Rivers in the AFC Championship Game but was not penalized for it back in January, 2008.
The Chargers defense most likely will be without Joey Bosa and potentially Erik Kendricks due to
hamstring injuries. Rookies Tuli Tuipulotu and Daiyan Henley might start in their places.
No big deal, right? Henley could find himself chasing Derrick Henry in his first real NFL action. The Chargers defense will have their hands full with Henry but due to an injury to DeAndre Hopkins, they may only need to focus on stopping the run. Ryan Tannehill showed last week that he is willing to chuck it and hope for the best. Three interceptions later and you can't help but wonder how long of a leash Vrabel has for him.
Kellen Moore showed in Week 1 thathe can adjust his game plan to what the defense gives him and I hope to see the same this week.
The game plan back here will be griddling up SoFi style street dogs at the Bolted Up Tailgaters Backyard Tiki Resort. I plan to introduce the Rivers Lake Yacht Club captain himself, Señor Snappy, to the TIKI-BUT cocktail.
To calm the storms on social media, Sunday cannot come soon enough for Chargers fans. Chargers win this one and cover.
Chargers 27 -Titans 17
Kea Humilde (Season Record 0-1)
Tennessee Titans? Hard to remember them. One thing I can remember though, is Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill proudly admitting the number 17 on his jersey is influenced by our fearless hero, Philip Rivers.
Our Bolts are still on the battlefield, reeling from the battle they lost, but the war is far from over.
Besides, the only ten they’re gonna see is Justin Herbert.
Chargers 24 -Titans 13
Thunder Down Under Podcast
Jack Reed (Season Record 0-1)
On this week’s episode of The Thunder Down Under Chargers Podcast, we ran our (in)famous 'Buy, Sell, Hold' segment.
Buy: Moore’s offensive scheme. Buy Moore of it…as much as you can! Look for the passing game to come into its own a little more this week. With Ekeler out or hampered, Herbert is going to need to begin to start finding Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Josh Palmer, Quentin Johnston, Gerald Everett etc. Lots of weapons.
Injuries will not impact this offense as much with the calibre of weapons around. The Chargers scored 34 points while chewing up 200-plus rushing yards; a fantastic sign as the offense is not even close to its potential just yet.
Buy as much stock in the offensive line as you can early in the year. The impact of Rashawn Slater's return from a torn biceps cannot be understated. Slater Island is back! Zion Johnson looks stronger. Jamaree Salyer seamlessly moved to the right side. Trey Pipkins looks serviceable. Let’s hope Coryey Linsley’s health continues as he is the gel that brings them all together.
Sell: The opinion that last week’s run defense was ‘good’. Yes, the secondary had the roughest night I can remember thanks to a Cheetah (receiver Tyreek Hill) and the greatest performance quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has ever put on film. Coach Mike McDaniel pulled all the right levers at the most inopportune times.
King Henry will be the proper test before Sebastian Joeseph Day and the interior can rightfully say that the run defense has improved. Eric Kendricks is possibly out with a sore hamstring which means that Kenneth Murray, who struggled to diagnose play-action against the Dolphins, could wind up calling the defense.
Titans did not aim to run the Saints into submission last week, but Henry lined up in the wildcat, out wide, and ran well. This is a big test.
J.C. Jackson will be back at the Patriots level, pre-patellar tendon injury and finally start looking like himself. That is a LOT of caveats, I know. Some of the mistakes he made were crucial (kneel, man!), but I do have empathy for him. The fact that he is even playing is ridiculous. And to be put on Tyreek Hill? The most dominant speed WR in the league…perhaps ever? Man…that was rough. Let's see what he can do against a far lesser WR corps with the Titans. Redemption game.
Hold: Hold the stock and phone on calling this defense ‘the same as last year’. I am not defending Brandon Staley here, nor am I giving what occurred last week a pass. However, the Dolphins could be the number one overall offense in the league this year when all is said and done. It was that good.
McDaniel really had Staley’s number. I will wait until Week 4 to make major calls, but let us just say that Staley’s butt is hot right now. Titans coach Mike Vrabel is a defensive-minded head coach who has given the Titans a clear identity on defense—unlike Staley. They want to smash your head in through ferocious tackling and a stout defensive line, one of their strengths. Defense versus Defense. Coach versus Coach. Here we go.
I mentioned it on the podcast whether the receiver room is too stacked and if it is detrimental to the progress of guys like Palmer (W1 50+ snaps, 1 target, 1 reception, 4 yards), but let’s wait and see what Moore uncorks this week. I’m hoping to see a forty burger.
We lose this one and the water will begin to be verrrrry hot for Brandon whilst Moore will be sitting in the spa, waiting, watching. BTFU! Chargers 38-Titans 28
Mark White (Season Record 1-0)
Is this really a Battle of the Titans or just two teams who lost in week one?
It's hard to look at this Week 2 match up and bet against the Chargers— they barely lost (as I predicted) against an electric Tua-led offense. On paper the Chargers outmatch the Titans from top to bottom, and the sun seems to be setting on the Titan's recent rise. So, obviously, this means Ryan Tannehill will throw darts, Derrick Henry will steamroll, and the Chargers will find a way to lose in Tennessee, putting Brandon Staley on an already toasty seat.
Someone tell that Charger defense to wake up.
Titans 28-Chargers 13
The Greek Uncles in Chicago
Abram Sexson and Panos Mamalis (Season Record 0-1)
My Thia Aliki always said the mark of a great cook is consistently scrounging a meal together with what you have.
Coaching matters, and chef Vrabel has been elevating Tennessee cuisine for years now. Often, there’s not much in the fridge, but he just keeps delivering side dishes that pass as premium fare when plated with the Derrick Henry sandwich. The Chargers' run defense has been the worst in the league over the last two years and they should expect Henry to run them over the way my cousin Maria got run over by that garbage truck during the strike of 2003.
Will Herbert unleash that arm and expose the Titans weak defense against explosive plays or keep playing it safe like cousin Yianni betting the under the first 2 weeks of every NFL season?
Titans 24-Chargers 21
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