Lions focus on Ekeler as Chargers visit
Running back Melvin Gordon's holdout didn't affect the Los Angeles Chargers in their opener. Austin Ekeler made sure of that, scoring three touchdowns in a 30-24 overtime win over the Indianapolis Colts.
Keeping Ekeler under control is a major concern for Detroit coach Matt Patricia in the Lions' home opener on Sunday.
"He was a big part of their offense last year, too, when they would put the two-running-back sets out there," Patricia said. "It really put the defense in a bind from that standpoint because he's a passing-game threat.
"What really stands out to everybody that saw the game this past weekend is that he's actually an outstanding runner. He's really strong and powerful. He may not be big in size, but his lower-body strength is incredible."
Ekeler gained 58 yards on 12 carries and 96 yards on six receptions, including a 55-yard score. Backup running back Justin Jackson added 57 more rushing yards on just six carries.
Gordon's contract dispute thrust Ekeler, who scored six touchdowns in 14 games last season, into the spotlight.
The Chargers will have to lean even more on Ekeler with the loss of tight end Hunter Henry, who sustained a tibial plateau fracture to his left knee during the second half on Sunday. He is due to miss at least a month.
Henry was expected to be a big part of the offense after missing the regular season a year ago because of a knee injury. Virgil Green and Sean Culkin are the current backups on the roster.
"He's taking it tough," coach Anthony Lynn said. "Hunter wants to be out there with his teammates, he wants to play. Not being out there with them, he feels like he's letting people down but he's not. You can't control these things."
The Lions allowed 18 fourth-quarter points and had to settle for a 27-27 tie with Arizona in their opener.
An ill-advised timeout from the sidelines, which nullified a first down that would have clinched a victory in regulation, came back to haunt the Lions. That made the tie feel like a stinging defeat, especially with a tough stretch of games coming up.
Detroit plays at Philadelphia, vs. Kansas City, at Green Bay and vs. Minnesota after this week, sandwiched around a Week 5 bye. How the Lions respond to their late collapse could foreshadow where their season is headed.
"You probably don't finally know the answer until the next Sunday," Patricia said. "I will say this, I feel very confident right now that this team is in a good mental space as far as preparing for the Chargers. Guys were tired on Monday, but they really tried to come in and focus and just get all the corrections and move forward."
Lynn believes the Lions have already made progress in Patricia's second year as head coach.
"That defense is looking very stout," Lynn said. "They had control of that game, and they let the Cardinals back in it in the fourth quarter, but that team looked to me like they've definitely taken the next step. They have a lot of weapons on the offensive side of the ball."
One of the Chargers' weapons, wide receiver Mike Williams, is dealing with a sore knee that caused him to miss practice Wednesday. The team signed undrafted rookie Anthony Johnson as a precautionary move. Cornerback Trevor Williams (quad) was placed on injured reserve this week, and the team signed Dontae Johnson to replace him.
The Lions could get top linebacker Jarrad Davis (ankle) back this week. He was a limited participant in practice on Wednesday after missing the opener.
--Field Level Media
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