Which Back Should Be Used In The Red Zone?


Oct 14, 2013; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers running back Ryan Mathews (24) is tackled by Indianapolis Colts safety Delano Howell (26) after a short gain during the second half at Qualcomm Stadium. The Chargers won 19-9. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

As the season goes on, we are starting to see what this Charger team is capable of. We have seen what they do well, and what they are still struggling with. One area that they have struggled with, over the last two games, is the red-zone running game. We haven’t seen any of our backs do particularly well in that area, but mainly because we have been throwing the ball so well. That has changed a little bit recently. On Monday night against the Indianapolis Colts, we saw Nick Novak kick 4 field goals. That was definitely awesome for Nick “The Kick” Novak. But, touchdowns would have been preferred, obviously.

Danny Woodhead has been a monster since he got here. He has been running the ball hard, and biting off big chunks of yards at times. His height alone hides him from sight, and defenders don’t see him until he is a blurry streak of blue & gold in their peripheral vision. Ken Whisenhunt has often decided to use Woodhead, once we break the 20 yard line. This isn’t altogether a bad idea, but it isn’t exactly something I would hang my hat on.

If we are going to do that on every red-zone possession, I can see Woodhead getting hurt. Also, it will probably stop being effective in the long run. Danny runs with the heart of a lion, and piles into guys twice his size. On goal line pushes, he gets the initial 2-4 yards, but then is stopped dead, and gets pushed back dangerously (in my opinion). All it would take is a big nose tackle to fall on top of him awkwardly, and he could be out for the season. He has the toughness, and the quickness to play with the big boys. However, I just don’t think he should be used this way. In the Indy game, he was pushed back for a loss, which extinguished the drive. In the Raider game, he was stuffed on a 4th & 1 on the goal line. This is not working well, and needs to be changed.

Ronnie Brown has also been used here & there in goal line situations, as well. On one play, he did his best Ryan Mathews impression, and went flying over the top for a TD! This was what I like to see from our veteran back, and he deserves all the credit in the world for that great play. On the other hand, he is getting up there in years, and is extremely slow. Defenders have a very good chance of getting into the backfield, before Brown can even take a few steps. Also, if the blocking breaks down immediately, he lacks the speed necessary to get to the edge, and score. Let’s just say that Ronnie Brown might get lucky at the goal line, but he should not be our first choice.

Le’Ron McClain was brought in by A.J. Smith last year to pave the way for Ryan Mathews in the running game. An added bonus of signing him was that he was forced into a starting role, when he played for the Baltimore Ravens a few years ago. He was very successful, and racked up 900+ yards, and 10 TD’s. He has the size and strength to be used at the goal line, and would be my second choice to run up the gut on short yardage situations. Ken Whisenhunt seemed to be utilizing Le’Ron a little more in the Indy game, and he did OK. However, he did not use him in the red-zone, which was kind of a head scratcher to me. You have this big tough running back sitting there, and you use your pint-size back in the red-zone, when he couldn’t get one yard last week. That’s not a knock on Woodhead, whatsoever. I am merely wondering why they would go that route, when we had the Colts on their heels. It seems to me that we should have gone to a power running game inside the 20.

Now for the man who should be getting these carries… Ryan Mathews. RM24 has a fumbling problem. We know that. He showed it already this season, when he put the ball on the ground in the red-zone, right after Gates also did it. He also fumbled going over the top on a goal line play in preseason. Aside from these mishaps, I believe Ryan Mathews is doing a pretty darn good job. He is running harder than ever, and it has shown. He suffered a concussion, and STILL came back the following week, and had his best performance of the season. I know he isn’t getting past the second level, and breaking off long runs. But, I have noticed that he is hitting holes hard, punishing defenders, and keeping his legs churning for extra yards. He also has that Superman move, that scares the crap out of me… lol.

This is exactly what you need in the red-zone. He should be given the opportunity to rack up some TD’s, to go along with a 100 yard game. The more you reward him this way, the more confidence will build. Also, the team will be rewarded, and we won’t look one dimensional inside the 20. Pulling Mathews out on red-zone drives is very Norvish to me, even with his ball security issues. One fumble this season isn’t a big deal, and I don’t think we should abandon using Mathews, when we get that close.

When we play Denver after the bye week… or even Kansas City… we cannot afford to be kicking field goals. We can try to manage the clock, but Manning is a quick strike QB, and has a pretty good running game of his own. If we want to beat good teams in this league, we need to be able to score touchdowns in the red-zone. Our running game needs to be a big part of that. What do you think? Which running back would you use in the red-zone? Do you think our passing game can get the job done alone? Please comment below.

Keep Bolting Toward Excellence!

Peter Thompson