Ryan Mathews' Big Performance a Sign of New Life from Chargers' Ground Game

Marcelo VillaFeatured Columnist IIINovember 17, 2013

Nov 17, 2013; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; San Diego Chargers running back Ryan Mathews (24) stiff arms Miami Dolphins middle linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (59) during the second half at Sun Life Stadium. Miami won 20-16. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Ryan Mathews has come on strong for the San Diego Chargers in the months of October and November, but were his 127 yards rushing against the Miami Dolphins the turning point for a run game that has struggled?

It's possible.

In his last five games, Mathews has passed the 100-yard mark on three occasions. The Chargers won two of those games, riding the strong running of Mathews, but were unable to capitalize on the 127 yards he produced against Miami, falling short on the road.

San Diego's rushing attack has performed poorly since Week 1, averaging just 106.8 yards a game and only 3.8 yards per carry. What's even more disturbing is the fact that the Chargers have scored on the ground just four times—tied for 26th in the league with the Pittsburgh Steelers—and Mathews has two of them.

In four of the Chargers' losses, the ground game has crossed the 100-yard mark just once and finished with totals of 80, 69 and 36 yards. Since the bye week, those totals have drastically improved, despite the team's current three-game losing streak, with the exception of the 69 yards accounted for in the overtime loss to Washington.

In the last two games, San Diego has recorded 285 yards rushing with Mathews accounting for half. The improved running game hasn't translated into wins for the Bolts, but it's a start for an offense that relies so heavily on the pass. 

Philip Rivers started out the season on a hot streak, throwing for monster numbers in the passing game, but teams have begun to account for the aerial attack on defense. Thus, the running game has become more important to the offense than ever before.

Mathews, whose contract expires at the end of the 2015 season, is in a semi-contract year for the Chargers, who may or may not choose to continue with the fourth-year back. Looking at his numbers, it's hard to label him a feature back considering he's had trouble staying healthy and there was just one season in which he displayed his potential.

Ryan Mathews' Career Totals
201012 GP678 YDS7 TDS4 FUM
201114 GP1,091 YDS6 TDS5 FUM
201212 GP707 YDS1 TDS2 FUM

With Danny Woodhead acting as more of a complement to Mathews in the run game, it's imperative the Chargers continue to feed No. 24 in the 20-plus range for carries, as history has shown the team does well when he gets more opportunities. 

As for Mathews, his main concern this season is to stay healthy. Too many times this season Mathews has been forced to leave a game due to injury only to return later and play through the pain.

When he's left due to injury, the coaching staff has been forced to utilize the services of Woodhead and Ronnie Brown, who aren't typically looked at as bell cow backs. There's no question Mathews is running hard, but the strong running style continues to take an effect on his body. 

The 154 yards rushing against Miami is a sign of things to come from Mathews and the run game as the Chargers look to balance out their attack.