Nov 25, 2012; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers running back Ryan Mathews (24) warms up before a game against the Baltimore Ravens at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Running Out Of...Chances - Ryan Mathews, the Lead Back


 

Alright, we´ve talked a lot about the offensive line and the outside linebacker position lately. But I think the ground game situation deserves some attention too. And now that those roster spots had been fixed by our hard working General Manager, it´s maybe time to take quick look at the running back position.

I already mentioned in a previous piece that I´ve been going through some Chargers tape from last season and I got to see all the “great moments” again that let us desperately sink onto our knees – you know what talking about: a struggling O-Line, a mediocre quarterback, a “No. 1 wideout” becoming “the No. 1 bench warmer” and a coach on the sidelines knowing his time in Bolt town is already over. But I barely got to see a ground game; or at least something that´s worth to be called like that.

It seems everybody is talking about a make-or-break season for the Bolts´ No. 1 back, Ryan Mathews. He was on the way to become a fan favorite, but with his last season he lost most of his popularity among BoltAddicts. He is coming off his worst season in the National Football League, averaging a career low 3.8 yards per rushing attempt to go along with a career low one rushing touchdown.
We fans and the whole Chargers´ organization had very high expectations for the Chargers´ No. 24. And with good reason, because the Bolts traded all the way up from No. 28 to No. 12 in round one of the 2010 NFL Draft to select him.

In 2011, Mathews ranked 10th in the NFL with 1,091 rushing yards and 4.9 yards per rushing attempt.  But he got off to a rough start last year when he broke his clavicle in the preseason game against the Green Bay Packers.  He missed the first two games in 2012 and his season ended in week 15 when he broke his other clavicle against the Carolina Panthers.

But although Mathews is (still) the designated Chargers’ lead back, he wasn´t the only problem last season as the team averaged 3.6 yards per rushing attempt which ranked 31st in the league. The O-Line surely had it´s part on that lack of success. But the first round pick D.J. Fluker at right tackle and (probably) Jeromey Clary at right guard, should be able to open up enough holes for Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead (and the other guys) to gain more yards this year. The Bolts have gone 19 straight games without a 100-yard rusher; this negative streak has to end as soon as possible.

The new Chargers´ brass still got trust in No. 24 and expect big things from the injury-prone running back in 2013. But who´s there to help Ryan Mathews in the ground game and who can take over the lead back role when he goes down with an injury, just like he did so many times in past years? Not too sure if the “third-down backs” Danny Woodhead and Ronnie Brown can handle the rushing game on their own. And due to his history of (season-ending) knee injuries, Foswhitt “Fozzy” Whittaker can´t be considered as reliable option either (at least not for this season). Edwin Baker spent most of his rookie year on the practice squad and hasn´t seen any on-field action last year.

Maybe undrafted free agent Michael Hill could be the missing link here. Hill finished second in the voting for the Harlon Hill Trophy in 2012; this award is the Division II equivalent to the Heisman Trophy. He was the rushing leader in that division last season with 2186 yards and 16 touchdowns; but he also was able to record three receiving touchdowns. The 5’10″, 210-pound speedster got experience in running in a zone blocking scheme; i.e. he brings along the required patience to let the O-Line do their job before he chooses his running lane.

So, we surely got talent at the running back position, but I guess that´s not enough – it´s time to put up numbers again! Ryan Mathews is entering his fourth year with the Bolts and definitely has to prove something. He has to show that he can be a reliable lead back for the next few years. Over his three seasons with Chargers, he had 12 fumbles; 7 of them for loss. He has to find a way to fix that issue, otherwise Tom Telesco will start thinking about using a high draft pick (first round?) on a top running back prospect in 2014.

And before I close this piece right here I want to mention that Ahmad Bradshaw is still available in free agency. I know it´s highly unlikely that Telesco is even considering that option, especially now that he used quite a lot of money on veteran free agents. Having another experienced runner on the team would be a cool thing, but after all this wouldn´t be exactly a good move due to the current cap space situation in Bolt town (and the fact that Bradshaw is very injury-prone too).

I guess the Chargers bosses might have a bigger role in mind for Danny Woodhead, than Bill Belichick had for him in New England. They obviously trust him as lead back when Mathews goes down. Hopefully we don´t have to experience this scenario and Woodhead will mainly rock the field in third-down and two-minute offenses.

In the end the O-Line will have to do a better job opening lanes for the backs and the lead back Ryan Mathews has to prove that he´s worth to be called like that. There is always a next draft with the potential to make (nearly) any player on the roster expendable.

So, please No. 24, use your talent to put up numbers (again) and step up your game!

Thank you for checking out these lines and feel free to share your thoughts about the Chargers´ lead back and the whole ground game situation in the comments section below. Thanks again!

BoltnRoll!

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Tags: San Diego Chargers

  • jamfed

    Rushing starts in the trenches and SD’s new TRENCHMEN will help Matthews… Matthews should be a focal point in the new offense featuring McClain in the I formation as a lead blocker too.
    If McCoy wants to get to the playoffs, it’ll be though Ryan Matthews.

    • http://www.BoltBeat.com/ Peter Thompson

      You are correct, Jimbo! He has to look at it as an opportunity to turn haters into believers. Turn disappointing into magical. Many athletes are put in this position. He MUST persevere! As you stated, these trenchmen need to put their blood & guts onto the field to make sure he has that opportunity! GO BOLTS!

      • Nick in PB

        Last year was a bad year altogether for the offense. No way Mathews was going to do anything with that line! If he stays healthy, and if the line is as good as we are hoping for, then we can really see what RM can do! I wouldn’t be surprised to see him put up good numbers! I am excited to see what Hill can do. He needs to adjust to the speed of the NFL but he has talent.

        • MC Boltman

          Thats right. The line was awful. But he also has to stay healthy and got to fix that fumbling issues…and I like Hill too, he´ll see some playtime I guess. But I hope not too much, cause this would probably mean that Mathews went down with an injury again and Woodhead can´t take on the lead back role. We´ll see, I´m confident tho

          • Nick in PB

            I hear ya man! I hope Mathews can stay healthy and tear it up! Fingers crossed!

    • MC Boltman

      That´s right…but he also has to show that he can stay healthy for an entire season and I hope he found a way to fix his fumbling problem. But I won´t give up on him just yet.

      • http://www.BoltBeat.com/ Peter Thompson

        Me either! He’s got one more year, and then I am done. An average year will just leave more questions. His vision is the biggest problem to me. He simply goes the wrong way sometimes, when he has daylight in the other direction. That’s why he can’t break big runs. I pray that they put A LOT of time into fixing that.

        • MC Boltman

          Oh yes, absolutely right! And he´s not the one who got that move to make the last one miss. Its a make-or-break season, that simple.

      • arnie

        true. part of staying healthy includes reducing the amount of hits you RB takes, A lead Blocker is apart of that. LT had Lo’Neal and when he was gone, it wasn’t a coincidence, he started getting hurt. The other part is, sometimes a players body just can’t take it.
        Also did you know John Phillips, the TE played FB in dallas? there is a plan, and i assume it’s getting mathews past the defensive line, into the secondary.

        • MC Boltman

          John Phillips played FB in Dallas? Well, didn´t know that. I hope there´s a plan to get Mathews past the DL – and I surely hope he got better vision this year and he has fixed his fumbling problem. But I´m confident..

  • http://www.BoltBeat.com/ Peter Thompson

    I wore my Weddle shirt out for the first time yesterday, at the mall here in the O.C.
    I got a bunch of Charger love! This one guy walks past me, as my wife and I were catching a bite, and he asks “Can your running back stay healthy this year”? Good grief.. lol. I could only reply “I hope so”. Nice lines MC ; )

    • MC Boltman

      Thanx very much! Yeh, I guess “hope” is all we can do. Well, I don´t give up on him just yet, but we need a better ground game; if all the pressure is on Rivers shoulders on passing downs, we won´t succeed – double threat, baby! The O-Line is upgraded, now it´s Mathews´ turn…I still got concerns, but I also can see him stepping up his game. Lets go #24!

    • MC Boltman

      Btw…cool story :) He actually could have asked if Rivers will be able to bounce back in 2013. But it shows, how important a good/great ground game is for a football team. At least we can rely on Weddle…he´s THE man in SD right now (hey Butler…no offense! lol)

      • http://www.BoltBeat.com/ Peter Thompson

        This hot register girl at Old Navy said I was her “best customer of the day”, and that she was raised in a Charger family…. right in front of my wife too… Chikka Chikka, whut whut.. hahaha!

        • MC Boltman

          haha..priceless chikka chikka :) it seems that Weddle jersey was a great gift :)

        • Rob Base

          Haha bow chicka wow wow

  • FitzWilly

    Sad to say, But I’ve all but given up on “Captain Clavicle”
    He can take his lady parts and get out of SD
    As my Pappy used to say, He has all the tools, but no tool-box
    I’m a Fozzy Man myself
    He and Woodhead are gonna light up the Q :)

    • http://www.BoltBeat.com/ Peter Thompson

      Wakka Wakka… am I right, ladies?!!! Are you gonna buy one Fitzy?

      • FitzWilly

        I’m in PT :)
        can’t wait to see the Fozzy TD dance

    • MC Boltman

      haha Fozzzyyyy! get it on! We´ll see if gets some playtime – guess Hill is standing in line too

      • FitzWilly

        I have faith that “The Fornicating Fumbler” will work himself out of the line up
        Let’s all do the “Fozzy Heisman”

    • FitzWilly

      Who would give a thumbs down to Fozzie Bear :(
      is RM reading this blog?

  • http://www.BoltBeat.com/ Peter Thompson

    By the way… that picture of RM is making me blush, dooder.

    • http://boltbeat.com/ Ernie Padaon

      He is so hot

      • MC Boltman

        wohoow…it seems we´ve found some very special #24 fans here …:)

        • http://www.BoltBeat.com/ Peter Thompson

          LOL..

      • http://www.BoltBeat.com/ Peter Thompson

        I made it my new screen-saver ; )

        • MC Boltman

          well, as I said, we´ve found very special #24 fans right here :)

  • Rob Base

    My son Manny won’t even wear his Mathews jersey that I spent bank on! I’m rooting for the underdogs Fozzy Bear and Hill. Woodhead is solid but not sure on Baker. Mathews owes me an amends by playing a full season and rushing for over 1,000 yards and at least 15 TD’s with no fumbleias then I won’t be resentful anymore. I may even purchase my own 24 jersey MAYBE….

    • MC Boltman

      Oh, I wear my #24 Jersey, but I´ve to admit not that proud anymore as last year. And I don´t know if we can expect too much of those underdogs…Guess we have to rely on Mathews, Woodhead and also Brown (and McClain).

  • Sergio Quintero

    Several points, Mathews has to improve his vision or at least his discipline to follow the design of the play.

    He has to run smarter, he got his injuries trying to be a hero and diving for a first down (the injury against carolina comes to mind), its a 16 game season buddy, live to fight another day, the same goes for the fumbles, once you’re surrounded time to go down.

    I fully expect him to produce serious numbers, if the line is working in particular if they can develop the inside zone run, that the Broncos ran a lot last year. This team has to more creative than the inside dive on first down which Norv loved.

    I have a sneaky sensation that Michael Hill is going to make this team ahead of Ronnie Brown young legs get preference over declining players, and that this team will only carry one fullback and have 4 TE’s.

    • MC Boltman

      Ha interesting…Michael Hill over Ronnie Brown. Well, I´ve to admit it was little bit of a head scratcher to me when they signed Brown after they brought Woodhead onto the roster. Both are third-down backs and solid in pass catching and pass blocking. Due to the injury-proneness of our lead back, I´d like to have both on the roster – in case of an #24 injury, I guess Woodhead will be used as some kind of “lead back” and Brown will be the guy for third downs. I´m not too sure bout the injury-prone Fozzy and Baker…but I can easily see Hill in a Chargers uniform next season.

  • taz76

    We definitely need a running back a top one and we need to stop throwing great backs away with new management we won’t but we do need a top draft pick next year trade to get in a top three spot.