Joshua Kelley and Austin Ekeler need consistent touches to hurt Jets defense

Kellen Moore needs to lean on Kelley and Ekeler to beat the Jets on Monday Night.

COSTA MESA, Calif. — The numbers say that the Chargers have one of the better offenses in the NFL, which is true, but they don’t tell the whole story.

Some tendencies from last season are showing up again this season for the offense. 

Last season, they were near the bottom of the league in rushing yards per game with 89.6. That number has risen to 103.6 this season, but in the last four, they have struggled to replicate the running attack that put up 233 yards and three touchdowns.

Since Austin Ekeler’s return three games ago, he has averaged 1.9, 3.2, and 1.9 yards on the ground, while Joshua Kelley has been better with 2.0, 10.7, and 3.5. Kelley had a 49-yard touchdown against the Chiefs two weeks ago.

“I think that we’ve been a little bit off,” head coach Brandon Staley said. “When you’re inconsistent, it’s not just one area. I think if it was one area, we could solve it. I think that it’s each area just doing a little bit better.”

The one outlier in all of this has been that they are missing center Corey Linsley, which has thrown off the play from the offensive line as a whole. For the time being, they will need to deal with that loss and find a solution to improve.

They have an opportunity to get the run game jump-started Monday night when they face the 31st-ranked run defense in the New York Jets.

Now, the Jets feature one of the most aggressive defenses in the NFL with linebacker C.J. Mosley and cornerback Sauce Gardner. They will be a tall task for this offense.

“C.J. Mosley there in the middle, I think that he is of that mold of a guy that has been doing it at such a high level for so long,” Staley said. “He is kind of the anchor there in the middle.”

Mosley is one of the most intelligent and instinctive linebackers in the NFL, with 49ers Fred Warner and Ravens Roquan Smith. 

When they faced the Chiefs in week four, Mosley noticed that Patrick Mahomes was looking toward Travis Kelce’s way, so he dropped back and made the interception before the half. Mosley noticed Kelce had beaten cornerback Michael Carter II and would have an easy catch to set up a potential field goal.

His partner in crime, Quincy Williams, is coming off winning AFC Defensive Player of the Month after calling 45 tackles, 6 for loss, two sacks, and a forced fumble in October.

They are a great duo.

It will be tough to move the ball, but the Chargers have a great quarterback in Justin Herbert, who will make plays. Taking care of the football will be essential on Monday.

This offense needs to get Ekeler and Kelley going to attack their weakness. Speaking of Kelley, he needs to start seeing more carries. Since Ekelers’ return, he has received one, seven, and six carries. That isn’t enough.

Kelley has been more consistent, and Ekeler is still working himself back into football shape. Ekeler’s impact is more in the passing game, like last Sunday against the Bears. He had 94 yards through the air and his first touchdown since week one.

“Not only when it’s on the ground, but it’s in the air,” Herbert said. “You have to worry about him in multiple different ways. Whether he’s in the backfield or whether he’s lined up out in the slot.”

Offensive coordinator Kellen Moore should move Ekeler around, similar to what former OC Ken Whisenhunt did when he had Melvin Gordon and Ekeler. 

Kelley could be beside Herbert while Ekeler is flanked out wide to take advantage of the defense.

They need to get more creative so that it doesn’t fall on the shoulders of Herbert to win the game.

“The big thing that you have to force defenses to do is to adjust and force them to see things that they have to second guess,” Staley said. “Keep them off balance. That doesn’t just mean run the ball, you have to really force their defense to communicate and force them to adjust and keep them off-balance.”

McKitty out, Vannett in

The team made one move on Tuesday when they waived tight end Tre’ McKitty while in a corresponding move, adding tight end Nick Vannett from the practice squad.

“Just performance,” Staley said. “Felt like we needed to upgrade the production at that position.”

McKitty is a former 2021 third-round pick out of Georgia. Consistency is lacking, along with his blocking ability. In his rookie year, he was the best blocking tight end and contributed on special teams.

Slowly declining the last two seasons, it comes as no surprise that the team decided to move, but it is another early draft pick that hasn’t materialized. Sitting there when the Chargers drafted McKitty was USC wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown.

Vannett is an upgrade in the blocking game, which the Chargers need desperately. They haven’t been good in the run game since week one against Miami.

The former Seahawk had his best receiving season in Seattle in 2018, catching 29 passes for 269 and three touchdowns. 

“I just feel like he is going to give us that experience and that consistency at the point of attack that we’re looking for,” Staley said.