Before we can talk about the importance of Donald Brown in the Chargers backfield, I need for Chargers fans to step back in time. I know you don’t really want to think about January 12th 2013, but we need to at this point. I think the best way to weigh Donald Brown’s role on the team this year, is imagine what it would have been like to have him last year.
Going into the 1/12/13 game, the Chargers had won 5 must-win games in a row. They went on the road twice to beat previously undefeated at home teams like Cincinnati and, of course, the Thursday night shocker at Mile High.
The Chargers had every reason to feel confident, right? Only two major problems ended up explaining why the San Diego scored as many points as I did in the first half of the game. Let’s start with the Denver weather. The fact that the Chargers are a warm weather team has never been an issue for Rivers and company who have as respectable a winning percentage in December as anyone. What was an issue, weather-wise, was a super strong wind that was whipping the flags around like crazy prior to the game.
What does this have to do with Donald Brown? Calm down, I’m getting there. The corner store of the Bolts revamped offense in the first year of the Mike McCoy era was the short passes with high completion rating on 3rd down. The man who bulldozed us into that position all year was Ryan Mathews.
It is not a question of toughness. Watch any Ryan Mathews highlight reel from last season and you will see a monster wreck defenses. Most importantly, he got the Bolts into those shorter 3rd down plays consistently. So, when Ryan Mathews went out on the field January 12th, he was gutting it out with a high ankle sprain. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t like walking to the bathroom let alone playing in an NFL game on that kind of ankle.
The team had no back-up or relief for Ryan Mathews. Woodhead can’t make the same kind of plays and Ronnie Brown didn’t have the power. I believe Tom Telesco was thinking he needed a second bruiser as he watched that game, and he found a solid solution.
Donald Brown was a former first round draft pick of the Colts (out of the University of Connecticut ) which means he has worked with Frank Reich before who was Peyton Manning’s QB coach when he was drafted. Tom Telesco was not the GM but very involved in the scouting process and drafting in Indianapolis. Brown is a 5’10” and 207-pound running back who signed with the Chargers for a three-year contract after playing five seasons in Indianapolis. He had 551 carries for 2,377 yards while averaging 4.3 yards per carry. His 83 career receptions for 767 yards and two touchdowns are nothing to sneeze at either. He also was a great pass blocker for prolific passers like Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck and, of course, the great Curtis Painter.
Donald Brown brings experience and big playmaking skill, but doesn’t have the normal wear and tear a full-time featured back would normally would have. The greatest way to project his impact would be to imagine him being on last year’s Chargers and being able to come in and play in the Denver playoff game. Had Donald Brown come in, not Woodhead at the one yard line, the Chargers likely would have won the game at the Redskins and the end of the would not have been as nerve-wracking or grey hair inducing for Bolts faithful.
Would Mathews have hurt his ankle still? It is impossible to know, but he would not have had to rush back out on the field in the KC game, and would have been more likely to contribute to the playoff game in Denver. Mathews and the grind down the clock running game was how the team beat the Broncos last time in Denver. When the Chargers only lost by 7 stinkin’ points it is impossible not to ponder how would have been different if Donald, not Ronnie Brown, had come into the game.
Brown doesn’t seem like the lynch pin to a contender, but he is one piece the Bolts needed when they were 8 points from the AFC title game.