As the Colts continue to spiral out of control, losing 7 of the last 8, they find themselves in a unique position. Currently having the 6th pick in the draft the Colts have a chance to land a potential franchise-altering player with the current trajectory they're on, but they also haven’t been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention quite yet. By the time the game starts, they will have a little more clarity on the situation because they can be eliminated by a Jags win on Thursday night or a Titans win on Saturday afternoon. Regardless, the Colts have to deal with a Chargers team that has been playing well as of late and is finally getting healthy at the right time. The chargers are making a playoff push and really need this win to lock down one of the wildcard spots. One of the key reasons for their recent success has been the one constant weapon that has delivered all season: Austin Ekeler.
Austin Ekeler was an undrafted running back from Western Colorado in 2017. He was thrust into the lineup much earlier than expected and played in all 16 games as a rookie, combining for over 500 yards and 5 touchdowns. Over the past few years, he spent his time establishing himself as one of the best dual-threat backs in the league. This year is no different for Ekeler, he is on his way to possibly the first pro bowl season of his career. Ekeler this season has 692 rushing yards and 9 touchdowns on the ground to go along with 635 yards receiving and 5 touchdowns through the air. He is as versatile as they come out of the backfield and is a matchup nightmare in most situations.
While I have my questions about Joe Lombardi and the positions he puts Herbert in as a quarterback, I absolutely can’t question anything about the way he uses Austin Ekeler. He continues to find ways to extract the most value and production out of him on a game-to-game basis. First, Ekeler as a runner is not just a scat back that looks to bounce everything outside. Ekeler has shown the ability to run between the tackles, as shown in this clip:
Ekeler has a nose for the endzone. He’s up to 14 touchdowns this season and it’s tough runs like this that are the reason:
The Chargers like to use him on zone runs where he’s allowed to cut back and identify holes with his excellent vision, which lets him churn out yards consistently:
Textbook backside blocks by Zion Johnson and Trey Pipkins on this outside zone run to free up a cutback lane for Austin Ekeler. This kind of thing was not happening when Pipkins was out. pic.twitter.com/Kvd76h5YbU— Steven Haglund (@StevenIHaglund) December 20, 2022
While those things are nice, what truly makes Austin special is his ability to catch the ball and what he gives you in the yac department. He is currently number 1 in the NFL by almost 200 yards. His balance in this clip is just ridiculous stuff:
Lombardi will be trying to get Ekeler matched up with a linebacker all game and will look to take advantage of it because having Ekeler out there is like having an extra receiver on the field. Look what he does in this clip when the linebacker actually has perfect coverage on him:
The Colts will certainly have a game plan in place to contain Ekeler, and I’m sure Bobby Okereke will be heavily involved. I also think this is where some of those 3 safety rotations with Thomas, Blackmon, and McLeod will come in handy. Those will be matchups the Chargers look to exploit and if they do it, it’ll be a long night for the Colts.