San Diego Chargers: Ryan Mathews, the Running Game and the Super Bowl

Peter KleissAnalyst IIAugust 20, 2011

The San Diego Chargers are gearing up to win a Super Bowl this year. The signs are everywhere.

Last year’s holdout Vincent Jackson didn’t sign with another team this year, he wasn’t traded, instead, the star receiver was made the Bolts’ franchise player.

Owner Dean Spanos opened his wallet and the Chargers general manager, A.J. Smith, started doing something he is known for not doing—signing free agents.

Safety Bob Sanders and linebackers Takeo Spikes and Travis LaBoy were added to shore up the Chargers’ defense. Even the re-signing of linebacker Stephen Cooper shows how serious the Chargers are at making a Super Bowl run by maintaining some depth.

When all is said and done, the Chargers have spent 25 percent more on salaries this year compared to last and are just under the salary cap. From a financial point of view they have done about all they can.

The rest will be up to the coaching staff and the players.

We already know that the Bolts passing attack is second to none. Philip Rivers, Antonio Gates Jackson and the rest of the air corps give Chargers fans all the confidence in the world that they can get the job done.

But what about the running game?

That may be the biggest question facing the Chargers chances at bringing home the Lombardi Trophy this year.

Mike Tolbert seems to be the most reliable back, but he lacks explosiveness and speed. Outside of short yardage or goal-line plays, Tolbert’s contributions aren’t going to be game-breakers.

That duty falls on the shoulders of second-year man Ryan Mathews.

His rookie season was less than spectacular, carrying the ball 158 times for 678 yards and seven touchdowns with a 56.5 yards-per-game average. He had four carries of over 20 yards to go along with four rushing fumbles. He also caught 22 passes for 145 yards with a 6.6 yard average and no touchdowns and one more fumble.

Considering he played in only 12 games, these statistics are unimpressive at best.

Mathews was hampered for most of last season by a high ankle sprain he received in Week 2, and this year he reported with a nagging toe injury. The problem wasn’t serious enough to keep him out of the starting lineup for the Chargers preseason opener against the Seattle Seahawks—though he was substituted after two plays.

That might sound like a problem, but the entire starting lineup was substituted after the first drive and Tolbert made only two rushes himself. 

The real question surrounding Mathews will be answered soon enough.

Can he play the whole season without injury?

There are still three weeks before the start of the regular season, time enough for Mathews to get 100 percent healthy. The reports out of training camp indicate that he is practicing hard and getting in shape for the upcoming campaign.

Head coach Norv Turner won’t be taking any chances though, so Mathews playing time may be limited until the home opener against the Minnesota Vikings on September 11.

If Mathews can suit up for all 16 regular season games and hold onto the ball, he may just yet become the Chargers feature back.

Heaven knows that if he can contribute in a meaningful way, the Chargers chances at glory will skyrocket. Having a solid running game to back up the passing game to go along with a stingy defense will give the Bolts the ability to blow teams out of the water—a trait most Super Bowl-bound teams possess.