The game against the Tennessee Titans made me rethink my position.
When Le'Ron McClain took a handoff and rumbled 17 yards for a first down after watching Curtis Brinkley run wide all day (poor Ronnie Brown is still trying to get to the hole at this point), I was interested to see what the big guy could do.
Then I see big 'ol Battle continuously rumbling for big yardage, looking like Jacob Hester and Mike Tolbert running out the clock on the Denver Broncos circa 2009. This man looked dominant and far too big and strong for the Titans to deal with.
The debate now rages on. Should the Chargers give Battle a large chunk of Ryan Mathews' carries?
There are a lot of fans livid over the number of games missed by Ryan Mathews, but there is a big advantage to having Mathews on the field for all three downs when he's healthy. Mathews can effectively run any play in the Chargers playbook, Battle can not.
Here is a rundown of the Chargers running backs:
A less talented version of Mathews who frequently misses holes and doesn't take what he can get. The opposing defenses would like to see him in the backfield as often as possible, unless he decides to stop dancing.
Only a threat to catch screen passes out of the backfield. No longer has the explosion to be a force running the ball. He's a good pass protector, so the opposing defense is on the lookout for the screen. If he happens to run the ball, it's an easy stop.
A load running the ball, so bring your big-boy pants. Not a huge threat catching passes out of the backfield so far in his six year career.
No need to defend the perimeter run, because most defenses can outrun him to the edge. If the Chargers bring him in, it's most likely going to be a run or play-action pass.
Explosive player who is an equal threat catching passes out of the backfield or taking a handoff. Usually gains over 100 total yards from scrimmage without being overtargeted. Defenses must defend the entire field when Mathews is in the backfield.
Mathews adds a different dynamic to the offense. He forces the other team to pay extra attention to him. Tight end Antonio Gates also requires extra attention.
The combination of these two players hogging the defense's attention opens up things for Malcom Floyd and the other wide receivers. Quarterback Philip Rivers also enjoys the extra hesitation from defenders.
With Mathews out, the Bolts offense is far more predicable. You would think that defenses would be easier to fool if you heave a long pass with Battle in the backfield, right?
That may work once or twice...the entire year!
Also, remember your history.
When San Diego lost the AFC Championship game to the New England Patriots, switching out Michael Turner and Darren Sproles helped the Patriots bring in specialized personnel to deal with each guy. Sproles was a huge threat on screens and draw plays, whereas Turner was a huge threat on regular running plays.
Patriot veterans like Junior Seau and Rodney Harrison had an easy time figuring out the plays the Chargers were going to run, especially in the red zone, because the Bolts had a package of plays for each player.
There was no such package for LaDainian Tomlinson. Any play could come at any time, which meant that any defensive formation was possible with L.T. on the field.
Remember the Broncos' disastrous cover-zero blitz in 2006?
No defense would have made that mistake with Sproles on the field (besides the fact he was injured), because taking quick passes to the house are his specialty.
Remember how frustrated Michael Strahan was in 2005 when the New York Giants had no idea if L.T. was going run, catch or throw the ball? The man was ready to hurt somebody, he just didn't know who.
Strahan couldn't hone in on anything and just about lost his mind. There was no Sproles or Turner specialty package.
L.T.'s specialty was everything. Defenses didn't get to use 50 percent of their brain when he was on the field. They had to use 100 percent and, at times, that wasn't good enough.
Mathews has L.T.-like ability. Any play the Chargers call, he can run it.
Battle and Brown are specialty backs, while Curtis Brinkley is clearly a backup. The number of plays they can run with great effectiveness is limited. Defensive coordinators around the league know it, which makes their job far too easy.
Ryan Mathews is a complete back who should not be taken off the field unless he's taking a breather or Battle is running out the clock. Why let defenses off the hook?
Keep them guessing and keep them stressing.