Ryan Mathews: Chargers Players Who Must Step Up in Running Back's Week 1 Absence

Mike MoraitisAnalyst ISeptember 8, 2012

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - AUGUST 24: Ronnie Brown #30 of the San Diego Chargers carries the ball during the first quarter against the Minnesota Vikings on August 24, 2012 at Mall of America Field at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

It's official: San Diego Chargers running back Ryan Mathews will not be ready for the team's season opener against the Oakland Raiders on Monday, and that means his teammates must step up to fill the void.

The news came from Michael Gehlken of U-T San Diego.

Mathews had an impressive 2011 season for a bad team in San Diego. While the Chargers didn't fare so well, Mathews had a breakout season, with 1,091 yards on the ground on 222 attempts, which was good enough for nearly five yards per carry.

Out of the backfield, Mathews caught 50 passes, for 455 yards. Combined, that is the type of production that is never easy to replace.

That being said, the Chargers will need some extra effort from some of their key players and even the lesser-known ones. Here are some players that must step up in Week 1 for the Chargers.


Philip Rivers

This goes without being said, but the Chargers quarterback must step his game up in Week 1.

Normally a productive and efficient signal-caller, Rivers had a 2011 season to forget after tossing 27 touchdowns and a lackluster 20 picks. He was still able to throw for a ton of yards, but Rivers' turnovers were very costly for San Diego.

In Week 1, Rivers won't have his running back behind him, and that means it'll be left up to two question marks in the backfield. Ronnie Brown has been a disappointment throughout his career, and Curtis Brinkley doesn't have enough of a track record to make him a sure bet by any means.

If neither of those backs mentioned can get it going in this game, Rivers will have to throw more passes than usual. It will be vital to the success of the Chargers offense that Rivers not only completes these extra passes but also avoids giving the ball away to the Raiders defense.

Long drives with the help of Rivers will not only lead to success on the offensive end, but it will also help keep San Diego's defense off the field and well rested—something that is always easier to do with a consistent rushing attack.


Ronnie Brown

As I already mentioned, Brown has been a disappointment during his career in the NFL.

Brown was drafted second overall by the Miami Dolphins in 2008, and while he's had some solid seasons, he has played nowhere near the talent level expected of a No. 2 overall pick.

But this year in San Diego, Brown has a golden opportunity to show he can play at a high level, thanks to the injury to Mathews.

With the youngster Brinkley being the only other option, Matthews' absence sets Brown up to be this team's No. 1 back in Week 1. If he can impress, that could do wonders for increasing his workload moving forward.

The Chargers need Brown to get it going, giving them a two-headed attack on Monday. If not, the game will be placed squarely on the shoulders of his quarterback, making San Diego's offense predictable and easier to stop.


Curtis Brinkley

Brinkley will be the Chargers' No. 2 option on Sunday, but with little track record to go by, there's no telling what San Diego will get out of him.

Brinkley saw limited action in 2011, carrying the ball only 30 times, for 101 yards and a score.

The Chargers don't need Brinkley to take this game over, considering Brown is above him on the depth chart, but they do need the 26-year-old to maintain whatever credibility San Diego's rushing attack has in Week 1 when Brown isn't on the field.

If Brinkley can complement Brown sufficiently in this game, the Chargers should have no problem filling the void left by Mathews' injury.