San Diego Chargers: 4 Reasons the Running Game Must Improve
The San Diego Chargers are 3-2 and sitting atop the AFC West, but the running game has very little to do with it.
With Ryan Mathews out the first two weeks, the Chargers went with a running back by committee approach. Jackie Battle, Curtis Brinkley and Ronnie Brown all got carries, but to say that results were mixed would be generous.
Neither Brinkley nor Brown is averaging over four yards per carry, and although Battle is more efficient at almost five yards per carry, he hasn't rushed for more than 70 yards in a single game.
Fans might look at the record and be satisfied with how things have played out so far. But their three wins are over opponents with a combined 3-8 record, not including the three losses suffered at the hands of the Chargers.
Mathews is the team's leading rusher, and he isn't even among the top 30 rushers in the league.
Here are four reasons why the San Diego Chargers must improve their running game,
1. Churn Clock with the Lead
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Running the ball in order to keep the clock moving late in a game is a strategy employed by teams at all levels.
The best part is that it only requires two simple steps. The first is that you must have a lead. Running the ball and keeping the clock moving wouldn't make sense at all otherwise. And the second: you actually have to be effective at running the ball!
The Chargers game against the Saints is a great example of this as they took a 10-point lead in the third quarter. At this point, having a go-to guy in the backfield to help keep the clock moving is essential.
Granted, the Saints are a quick-strike offense and the lead was cut to three by the start of the fourth quarter.
But all the more reason to maintain possession, work the clock, put points on the board while the game is winding down. The Saints eventually won the game, and San Diego didn't score in the final 25 minutes.
In a league filled with gunslinger quarterbacks and offenses that throw the ball twice as often as they run, being able to control the clock late is a huge advantage.
And the Chargers, without a consistent running game, don't have that yet.
2. Keep Defenses off Balance
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When opposing defensive coordinators have to look up who your running backs are, odds are they aren't too concerned with stopping the run. That's probably an exaggeration in the case of Jackie Battle and Curtis Brinkley, but those names don't exactly send shivers down the spines of linebackers.
The main reason for the Chargers woes has been Mathews' inability to stay on the field. Because when he is, the talent is evident. He's averaging over five yards a carry but has just 36 carries on the year. For perspective, Arian Foster has 132 carries.
When Mathews is healthy, the Chargers have to get him the ball as often as they can, because keeping teams off-balanced will probably ensure that 27-3 beatdowns don't occur very often.
In that loss to the Falcons, the Chargers averaged 6.8 yards a carry but ran the ball only 17 times!
Turning the ball over four times can sometimes change the game plan, and that's likely what happened here.
When defenses know what's coming, the offense is in trouble. Falling behind made running the ball much less of a priority. But the best offense is typically one that excels both through the air and on the ground.
The Chargers have the talent to do this, but they sure haven't shown it.
3. Take Pressure off Rivers
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The pressure was on Philip Rivers the moment he was traded to the Chargers in exchange for Eli Manning.
So far, the comparisons aren't pretty if you're a fan of the Bolts. Manning has two Super Bowl victories, and Rivers hasn't led his team to the playoffs since 2009.
Rivers isn't a bad quarterback. Far from it, at times. In a Week 2 win against Tennessee, he completed 75 percent of his passes while throwing for nearly 300 yards and three touchdowns.
But he can't do it on his own. And as much as it sounds like a broken record at this point, without consistent production from the ground game, teams are going to feast on Rivers in the passing game.
Whether you're Joe Montana or Ryan Leaf, the more times you throw the ball, the more interceptions you're going to throw.
The Chargers like to throw the ball, and they've been pretty darn successful at it the past few seasons. But at this point in his career, it's clear that Rivers will never be a guy that carries the team on his back.
4. The Best Teams Can Run the Ball
The Patriots are running the ball well in 2012.
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Running backs are often lost among the incredible QB play that occurs these days. But would it surprise you to know that the New England Patriots, well-known for passing and then passing some more, are third in the league in rushing?
Not only that, but while the Chargers don't have a single player in the top 30 rushers, both the Patriots and the Chicago Bears have two! Is it coincidence that the Bears are 4-1 and the Patriots are 3-2?
As much as the term "pass-happy league" is tossed around during pregame shows and post-game analysis, the truth is that the best teams typically run the ball well.
There are exceptions to every rule, but if the Chargers want to find themselves in the company of teams like New England, they'll have to start running the ball effectively.