Ryan Mathews: Fumble-Prone RB Is in Danger of Losing Touches

Brian LeighFeatured ColumnistSeptember 28, 2012

SAN DIEGO, CA - SEPTEMBER 23:  Running back Ryan Mathews #24 of the San Diego Chargers is pursued by defensive back Dominique Franks #29 of the Atlanta Falcons in the third quarter at Qualcomm Stadium on September 23, 2012 in San Diego, California. The Falcons defeated the Chargers 27-3. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

When the season began, Ryan Mathews was included on a number of "breakout candidate" lists and drafted in the first three rounds of almost all fantasy drafts. Today, in spite of the lack of options behind him, GM A.J. Smith is talking about limiting his touches.

That's what happens when you can't take care of the football.

Much like Michael Vick in Philadelphia, Mathews' talent has earned him many a reprieve from turnover-fueled vitriol. But—again, much like the Philadelphia signal-caller—those days appear to be coming to an end.

Talking to Kevin Acee of the Union-Tribune San Diego, A.J. Smith said, "It has to stop. I believe you can improve in ball security....if it continues he will play less."

Those are fighting words from any GM, much less one who staked his reputation to Mathews by trading up 16 spots to draft him.

But Smith wasn't done there. He went all general-terms-football philosopher on us later in the interview, speaking not so subtly about the shelf life of fumblers on his, and all, NFL teams.

"What happens to fumblers is, first, they play less. Second, if it continues while they’re playing on a limited basis, then you don’t play for a while and you get to sit and think about it. Third, when you get the call to go back on the field and the fumbling continues, then you will be somebody else’s fumbler."


In Smith's defense, something does have to be done about Mathews' slippery fingers. In 27 career games, he's coughed up the ball 11 times, which equates to one fumble for every 42.5 touches. Those are Tiki Barber-esque fumble numbers, amigo.

So yes, the Chargers are taking a serious problem seriously, putting Mathews on notice that his incompetence will no longer be tolerated. Whether or not they'd ever actually bench him, well...that remains to be seen.

Ronnie Brown and Curtis Brinkley hardly inspired confidence in Mathews' early-season absence, and—in spite of Week 3's butt-kicking—the Chargers are still favorites to win an NFL division this season. The keys to that car can't be entrusted to a has-been and a never-will-be. They need to stay in the hands of the sorta-is-right-now.

It'll be interesting to see how Mathews responds to this very pointed, very public criticism. If it galvanizes him into learning how to hold onto the football, Smith could be the savior of the franchise. But if it has the reverse effect—that is, if it makes him hyper-conscious of holding onto the football and psyches him out of playing his normal game—the Chargers could be in for a long season.

Either way, there's plenty of reason to tune in on Sunday.