Injury-prone, fumble-prone and second string have been used to describe San Diego Chargers running back Ryan Mathews. The negative connotations of those words were masking more positive descriptions like fast, dynamic, quick and smart.
Mathews has had his issues, but the Chargers have been reluctant to lean on him this season despite not re-signing Mike Tolbert. The Chargers have instead tried to incorporate Ronnie Brown, Curtis Brinkley and Jackie Battle.
The Chargers have yet to realize that they need to put the offense on Mathews’ back. Mathews touched the ball 18 times in 28 offensive snaps and produced 139 yards and a touchdown. With Philip Rivers seemingly on the decline, the Chargers need a guy on the field that can put points on the board.
Who should be the centerpiece of the offense?
Brown and Battle can help Rivers move the chains, but they can’t create yards from nothing to bail the team out when the passing game isn’t working.
The Chargers need look no further than the game film from Sunday night against the Saints to determine how to divide the snaps in future weeks.
Example No. 1
The Chargers faced a 1st-and-10 from their own six-yard-line late in the second quarter, and Mathews came to the rescue.
The first run was an 18-yard scamper away from the design of the play. The Saints loaded the right ride (left side of the screen) with two linebackers and a safety.
The Chargers pulled the left guard around to the right with the fullback as the lead blocker. Defensive end Will Smith (No. 91) tried to go inside Jared Gaither, leaving a huge hole to the left side.
Mathews sees the Saints loaded up on one side and cuts back and uses his speed to get through a huge hole to his left.
Mathews runs through the arm tackle of safety Michael Jenkins and stumbles forward for a big gain.
Mathews picked up all 35 yards on the drive, which stalled after two incomplete passes by Rivers. The 35 yards of field position gained by Mathews and solid defense allowed the Chargers to start the next drive at their own 35.
Mathews' two runs of 12 yards started off the next drive, but then the Chargers went to the passing game and Battle and gained just 28 more yards, 25 by way of a pass interference penalty. The drive stalled and the Chargers came away with only three points.
The Chargers went to Mathews early but fazed him out on drives when they should have been leaning more heavily on him. Lesson learned: Give Mathews more touches throughout the drive.
Example No. 2
Mathews doesn’t get enough credit for his vision, and his 13-yard touchdown run was a great example. The play appears to be designed to go through the B-gap. When Mathews gets the ball, that hole looked enticing.
After two steps, Mathews saw a defender in the B-gap and C-gap. Mathews' only choice was to go outside.
Mathews uses his speed to get to the edge, and there is a clear path to the end zone. From here, Mathews just needs to run as fast as he can to the pylon.
The safety tried to cut Mathews off before he got in the end zone. Mathews does his best Superman impression and flies into the end zone to put the Chargers up by 10 points with 12:34 left in the third quarter.
The Saints would erase that lead to win. Mathews would get just seven more opportunities for the rest of the game. Lesson learned: Mathews should get carries in the red zone and late in the game when the Chargers have the lead.
The Chargers can no longer afford to play games without Mathews getting the majority of snaps at running back. The lack of usage of Mathews may ultimately cost the Chargers a win if it hasn’t already.