The San Diego Chargers have been forced to deal with a number of injuries this season, but no area of the team has been as decimated as the backfield.
Starting running back Ryan Mathews has been out of the lineup with a knee injury since Week 2, and Danny Woodhead has been lost for the season with a fractured fibula. Offseason acquisition Donald Brown has missed the past three games with a concussion.
Undrafted rookie Branden Oliver (352 yards, two touchdowns this season) has performed admirably, but the Chargers have lost two straight and have fallen a game and a half behind the AFC West-leading Denver Broncos.
Fortunately, it appears that Brown will be back in the lineup Sunday, just in time for a critical matchup with the 4-3 Miami Dolphins.
Brown's return will likely mean the end of Oliver's time as a workhorse running back, though he should still start and receive the bulk of the ground work.
The advantages of having Brown back in the lineup are that he brings the ability to contribute in the passing game and is an above-average pass protector.
In his five appearances this season, Brown has hauled in 13 receptions for 76 yards. For his career, he has averaged 8.8 yards per reception. While these are certainly not overwhelming numbers, Brown can get first downs as an outlet receiver in the backfield.
Brown can also be counted on to protect quarterback Philip Rivers when on the field in passing situations. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), he has a pass-blocking efficiency rating of 96.1 out of 100 this season. He has not been credited with allowing a sack and has allowed only one quarterback pressure in 2014.
This means that the Chargers should feel comfortable having Brown on the field in critical situations, such as on third down or during passing plays. Oliver, for the record, has been charged with allowing two quarterback hits but no sacks on the season.
However, Oliver should still be San Diego's first option at running back, even with Brown back in the fold. Oliver is currently ranked 12th overall among running backs by Pro Football Focus.
Expect Brown to provide a complementary role, offering a veteran presence and keeping Oliver fresh throughout the game. By having both players available, the Chargers should also be able to focus more heavily on running the football.
Considering the Dolphins currently rank third in the NFL against the pass (211.6 yards per game allowed) but 15th against the run (111.1 yards per game), focusing on the ground game this week could be the smart strategy.