All-32: Chiefs Focus on Austin Ekeler

Los Angeles Chargers RB Austin Ekeler
Los Angeles Chargers RB Austin Ekeler
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

Welcome to All-32, a game-by-game preview of every matchup on the NFL slate each week. The goal is to provide a look at the most critical part of each game with a marriage of data and film study. As the season rolls along, the focus will narrow in on the specifics, but for this week, many of the featured players and units are big-picture projections for the teams in question.

If you're interested in our game picks, you can find them on this page.

Let's get to it. All times listed as Eastern.

Kansas City Chiefs at Los Angeles Chargers—Sunday, 8:20 p.m.

Key Player: LAC RB Austin Ekeler

The surface-level reasoning for picking Austin Ekeler is that he is simply his team's best skill player. Mike Williams is solid, but he's not a star No.1 receiver and he's being forced to be one right now with Keenan Allen out of the lineup. Nobody else on the active roster right now even comes close to those two.

Diving a bit deeper, Ekeler is also the best positioned player to pick apart the Chiefs defense. A slightly below-average defense on the whole, the Chiefs have been particularly bad in defending pass-catchers out of the backfield. They rank 26th in DVOA allowed on running back targets while surrendering a league-high 8.6 running back targets per game. Part of that is their favoring towards two-high shells and blitzes, both of which can lead the quarterback to force the ball to the running back, but as the DVOA suggests, they're still subpar at stopping those targets from being successful even if they're forcing them intentionally.

Ekeler, to little surprise, leads running backs in targets and ranks second in DYAR. He only ranks 10th by DVOA, but considering all the times he has been force-fed the ball in an effort to bail out the Chargers' constipated offense, placing in the top one-third of efficiency is pretty remarkable. That force-feed strategy fell flat in the second half against the 49ers last week, but the Chiefs defense doesn't play with that same energy or tackling skills when rallying to the ball. If Ekeler can provide a good baseline out of the backfield, maybe—just maybe—the rest of the Chargers offense can sort itself out and play a competitive game.