Ryan Mathews may be the best running back on the San Diego Chargers' roster, but a bad habit could be the death of his feature-back role this season.
While many could argue the decision was made because of Mathews' costly fumble near the end zone in Week 3 against the Atlanta Falcons, U-T San Diego's Michael Gehlken reported that Turner did not make the decision to "send a message" to his young running back.
Norv Turner said not starting Ryan Mathews wasn't about sending him message. Thought Jackie Battle starting gave team best chance to win.
— Michael Gehlken (@UTgehlken) October 1, 2012
Despite spending most of the game on the bench, Mathews still managed to beat out Battle in rushing yards, carrying the ball 14 times for 61 yards compared to Battle's 15 carries for 39 yards. However, Battle once again did what no other San Diego running back has been able to accomplish this season—reach the end zone. In fact, Battle leads the team in rushing touchdowns with 3.
But, the most important stat in Battle's five-year career is his number of fumbles—zero. Mathews, on the other hand, has fumbled 10 times in three seasons.
Turner's statement may have actually been true when he said that Battle gave the Chargers "the best chance to win," but maybe that's code for he's least likely to put the ball on the ground. Even if Turner didn't intend to send a message, the action of benching Mathews certainly portrays some sort of uneasiness.
During the game against Kansas City, OT Jeromey Clary was pulled out after he allowed a sack on Philip Rivers. Clary appeared disgusted and was seen fuming on the sidelines, but he was sent back in after one play. Was that another example of one of these messages? Was the intended purpose of pulling Clary to get him fired up?
Should Mathews fumble again next week against the New Orleans Saints, I wouldn't be surprised to see Turner pull him in favor of Battle. If it's not to send a message, then it has to be for motivational purposes. Mathews is San Diego's most talented back, but there's no room for mistakes on Turner's squad.