Los Angeles Chargers Running Back on Pace for Impressive Record

The Los Angeles Chargers topped the Miami Dolphins 23-17 on Sunday Night Football for one of their most satisfying wins of the season in Week 14, and their star running back Austin Ekeler played his part, rushing 15 times for 45 yards and one touchdown. More importantly, he nabbed all eight of his targets for 59 yards. Impressive receiving games like that have become shockingly typical for Ekeler. So typical that he's within striking distance of setting a record for receptions by a running back in a season.

With his 93 receptions, Ekeler is on pace for 122 catches across 17 games and will likely become only the fourth running back in NFL history to top 100 receptions in a season, joining LaDainian Tomlinson in 2003, Matt Forte in 2014, and Christian McCaffrey in 2018 and 2019.

Though impressive as an individual feat, 100+ receptions for a running back usually indicates a struggling quarterback becoming timid and settling for an excess of checkdowns. Tomlinson's San Diego Chargers ranked 16th in scoring, with quarterbacks Drew Brees and Doug Flutie leading the team to a cumulative 73.1 passer rating. Forte's Chicago Bears ranked 23rd in scoring, with quarterbacks Jay Cutler and Jimmy Clausen combining for a paltry 5.8 net yards per passing attempt. McCaffrey's Carolina Panthers ranked 14th and 20th in scoring. None of those four teams ended the season with a winning record.

Ekeler's Chargers aren't quite as underwhelming as those squads; they rank 14th in scoring and sport a 7-6 record. But his achievement speaks to quarterback Justin Herbert's regression; the third-year passer is on pace for career lows in passing yards per game, passer rating, and net yards per passing attempt. Hopefully, the returns of wide receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams will turn things around; they've missed 11 games between them after combining for 2284 receiving yards in 2021.

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