One thing is very evident about Ryan Mathews that we learned today: he is what AJ Smith thought he could be.
AJ Smith was scrutinized by opposing AFC West and Chargers fans alike for moving up 12 spots in the draft to take Fresno State RB Ryan Mathews. Seeing how his injury led to Mike Tolbert having the opportunity to prove himself, we truly couldn't get a measurement on Mathews as a 250-plus carries RB.
In Mathews's first game as a full-time starter for an entire game, he gave us a little glimpse of what type of player he could have been this season for the Chargers.
Against the Broncos in a week 17 match-up, Ryan Mathews was the only person on the Chargers offensive squad besides the kicker to score any type of points. Mathews put up 120 yards rushing and three touchdowns on the ground for an average of 4.6 yards per carry. He also added three receptions for 19 yards.
Mathews's three TD runs weren't goal-line runs, they were "home run" runs.
On Mathews's first TD run, he ran the ball up the middle on the right side, only to have no lane. Mathews then bounced it to the left, broke both OLB Jason Hunter and OLB Mario Haggan's tackles, and ran over Brian Dawkins on his way to a 27-yard TD run.
On Mathews's second TD run, he ran the ball up the middle on a inside trap play in which RT Jeromey Clary pulled left and taken out ILB D.J. Williams. Mathews ran up the hole opened up by Kris Dielman, Nick Hardwick, and pulling RT Jeromey Clary.
Mathews then ran left, stiff-armed SS Renaldo Hill, broke CB Perrish Cox's attempted tackle, then ran over Hill right into the endzone.
Mathews's third and last TD run was the most impressive of the three TDs he had. It was off of a 4th-and-1 play in which QB Philip Rivers faked the ball to the FB and tossed the ball left to Ryan Mathews on a stretch run.
Mathews had OLB Robert Ayers and Williams pursuing him on the run, but Mathews hit the corner, stiff-armed Ayers, and then proceeded to put the afterburners on Williams and FS Brian Dawkins, who both took bad angles. The run concluded in a 31-yard TD scamper.
Mathews showed everyone in Denver and the entire NFL why the Chargers drafted him, as he displayed the same power, speed, change of direction, and ridiculous balance that led the Chargers to move up 12 spots in the draft to get him.
Mathews showed he is a complete RB in terms of running the ball. He can outrun, stiff-arm, run through, run over, and juke out defenders when he's healthy, and he showed that today.
I believe the key to Mathews having this type of game reminds me of what led previous San Diego Chargers legend LaDainian Tomlinson to succeed. That's being an every-down back.
Mathews needs time to get hot from the beginning of the game, and is one of those guys that needs a feel for the defense he's facing. When he gets 50/50 carries with Mike Tolbert, he won't get the same feel for the defense on a consistent basis like he would from being the every-down guy that Smith and Norv Turner originally thought he would be.
Sure, he may have struggled with turnovers as a rookie, but that's something he'll get better at, as LT himself made mistakes his rookie season with eight total fumbles. Mathews will improve, as this game is a big confidence builder for the young RB.
Mathews literally is giving the AFC West and the rest of the NFL a little taste of what is to come from the Chargers in 2011. Mathews even said it himself, that he will give the Broncos hell as he felt the weight of responsibility to carry on what Tolbert started when he went down to a ankle injury.
Mathews showed up, and every San Diego Chargers fan must be excited for a healthy Ryan Mathews to take over full-time duties next season.
What makes this win so impressive is the fact that the Chargers didn't have to rely on Philip Rivers to do the scoring, as Rivers was the key in keeping drives alive and Ryan Mathews put the nail in the coffin with his multiple TD runs.
Philip Rivers must have smiled a bit today, now that he doesn't have to shoulder the weight of the entire team. Maybe, every now and then, he can smile and just watch the show that Mathews will perform on Sunday afternoons nationwide, just like his idol Tomlinson had done in the past.
One thing is as sure as the sun rising from the east: the torch that Tomlinson had carried in the last decade has now been passed on to Ryan Mathews, carrying the Chargers' rushing attack into the next decade.