All eyes for Packers defense on Chargers Keenan Allen and Austin Ekeler

Oct 16, 2023; Inglewood, California, USA; Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen (13) celebrates after scoring on a 1-yard touchdown reception against the Dallas Cowboys in the first half at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 16, 2023; Inglewood, California, USA; Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen (13) celebrates after scoring on a 1-yard touchdown reception against the Dallas Cowboys in the first half at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /

With Justin Herbert at quarterback, the Los Angeles Chargers want to move the ball through the air, and for the Green Bay Packers defense, there are two players that will have to garner a lot of attention, and that is receiver Keenan Allen and running back Austin Ekeler.

Allen enters Week 11 as one of the most effective and efficient receivers in football, ranking fourth in total receiving yards and 10th in yards per route run this season. It’s not only about the quantity of opportunities for Allen, but he is making the most of those targets as well.

Allen has had the most targets within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage of any receiver this season, and he’s been one of the best at picking up yards after the catch. Allen is also tied for fifth in receptions of 20-plus yards. He’s truly a threat at all levels of the field.

"“He’s got great size, great range,” said Matt LaFleur on Thursday. “I feel like he’s one of the best against press coverage in the league. He’s got unbelievable release ability, short space quickness. He’s rangy. He can make contested catches. There’s nothing he can’t do. There’s a lot of elements to his game that remind me of Davante. I think he’s one of the more elite players at that position.”"

Perhaps the most impressive part of Allen’s success is that opponents know the ball is going to be thrown in his direction. His 93 targets are by far the most on the team, with Joshua Palmer being second with just 38. Yet, even with all of that attention, defenses are still unable to contain him.

Ekeler returned from injury in Week 6, and over the last three games in particular, he has been a much bigger part of the passing game, leading all running backs in targets and receiving yards during that span. The bulk of Ekeler’s targets come behind the line of scrimmage, often in the screen game, and he currently ranks second with 11.3 yards per catch and second in average yards after the catch with 12.5, according to PFF.

"”They like to use him in screens a lot,” said edge rusher JJ Enagbare on Friday. “So we have to more aware of how the tackles are standing and if we can peep if it’s a different kind of set for him so we can get out the stack and pretty much stop him, limit the yards after the catch he’s able to make and hopefully get a TFL (tackle for loss) on those type of screens.”"

The potential return of linebacker Quay Walker, who is listed as questionable but did practice in a limited fashion all three days this past week, would be a key factor in trying to contain Ekeler’s impact as a pass catcher.

Given the combination of Justin Herbert and Keenan Allen, along with the Packers potentially being short-handed at cornerback with Jaire Alexander listed as questionable, we will likely see a heavy dose of cover-2 from the Green Bay defense in an effort to limit the Chargers’ vertical presence, not to mention that safety help over the top will provide some help to the cornerbacks. This approach does, however, leave the Packers susceptible to the run, with there being an unaccounted for gap up front when teams are in cover-2.

To provide the secondary with help, being able to pressure Herbert will be a must for the Packers. He has been ruthlessly efficient this season when throwing from a clean pocket. With time in the pocket, Herbert, Allen, and Ekeler will have the opportunity to pick this Green Bay defense apart. Offensive tackles Trey Pipkins and Rashawn Slater have taken their lumps this season, ranking fifth and 18th in terms of most pressures allowed. However, the Packers could be without Rashan Gary, who was added to the injury report Friday and is listed as questionable.

The Packers offense has been trending in the right direction and will have the opportunity to build upon that momentum against a Chargers defense that has given up a bevy of explosive plays in the passing game, along with ranking in the bottom third in points per game allowed. With that said, the recipe for a Green Bay win does not include this game turning into a shootout, which the Los Angeles offense is happy to do, averaging the seventh most points per game this season.

It won’t be easy, but the Packers defense has to keep points off the board, and even having the chance to do so begins with limiting Allen and Ekeler. If not, similarly to Green Bay’s Week 4 matchup with Detroit, this game could get out of hand quickly.

"“He’s the real deal,” said LaFleur when asked about Herbert and the Chargers offense. “There’s not a throw he can’t make. Does a great job protecting the football. Makes great decisions. Very decisive with throwing to tight windows. Keenan Allen is a monster. He leads them. Obviously, Eckler is back there. They’ve had some unfortunate injuries but I think they’ve got a lot of playmakers that are capable of making explosion plays, but he’s the guy that drives the whole thing, obviously.”"