Ryan Mathews: Breaking Down Fantasy Projections for Chargers RB vs. Saints

Adam WellsFeatured ColumnistOctober 2, 2012

SAN DIEGO, CA - SEPTEMBER 23:  Running back Ryan Mathews #24 of the San Diego Chargers is tackled by free safety Thomas DeCoud #28 of the Atlanta Falcons in the first quarter at Qualcomm Stadium on September 23, 2012 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Fantasy owners continue to have high expectations for San Diego Chargers running back Ryan Mathews. He had a breakout season last year with 1,091 yards and six touchdowns in 14 games, so why wouldn't he improve on those numbers this season?

Mathews suffered a broken collarbone during preseason and was sidelined for the first two games of the regular season before making his return in Week 3. 

In his two games back, Mathews has put up respectable numbers for a No. 2 back—24 carries, 105 yards—but that's not exactly what fantasy owners wanted to see.

There is some encouraging news, as he was given 14 carries against Kansas City in Week 4, so he appears to be on his way to carrying the load once again. 

As the Chargers get ready for a Week 5 tilt against New Orleans, here is what we expect from Mathews. 

 

Matchup With the Saints

The Saints are a mess right now, though their offense did finally get back on track, at least to some degree, against Green Bay.

Defensively, nothing the Saints have done this season is working. They are 24th in pass yards and 32nd in rushing. They give up over 460 yards of offense per game. 

Mathews and fantasy owners everywhere have to be chomping at the bit to get this game played. Even the Packers, who rank 25th in rush yards, were able to rack up 102 yards against the Saints in Week 4. 

Expect the Chargers to make a commitment to the run early, just to test the Saints and force that defensive front to make a stop when it absolutely has to. We haven't seen it this season, so there is no reason to think Mathews won't be able to exploit it. 

 

Split Situation

Here is where things get a bit dicey with Mathews. Right now, Jackie Battle leads the team in carries (32), yards (163) and touchdowns (3). He actually had more carries (15) than Mathews (14) in Week 4, though his output was significantly less (39 to 61). 

At some point, the Chargers are going to have to turn Mathews loose, and this looks like as good a game as any to do that. We have chronicled the Saints' struggles against the run. It is up to head coach Norv Turner and offensive coordinator Hal Hunter to devise a game plan for him. 

By all measures, Mathews is ready to carry the ball 20 times per game. He continues to get stronger and run harder with each passing week. 

 

Conclusion

So all that set up leads to the question: What will Mathews do vs. New Orleans?

It's not exactly going out on a limb to expect this to be his best game of the season, at least up to this point. 

The Chargers have done a good job this season of finding a balance between the run and pass. This game is going to feature a lot of points, so that could take away some of the carries Mathews gets, but overall it won't make too much of a dent. 

Prediction: 19 carries, 97 yards, 2 TD