In my last column, I completely dismissed Ryan Mathews as a factor for the Chargers. No sooner than the posting went web-wide did Mathews run for his first 100-yard game of the season against Indianapolis, then follow it up with another 100-yard game against Jacksonville. That is not a misprint, Ryan Mathews has run for over 100 yards in two consecutive games! Who is this guy and where did he put the real Ryan Mathews? This must be a pod person. On second thought, leave the real Ryan Mathews wherever he is, we’ll keep the pod person.
Seems like 24 is a fitting number for Mathews because this season feels like an episode of 24 with him, always changing every week. Only difference is Ryan Mathews doesn’t do cool stuff like Jack Bauer, killing bad guys and saving hot chicks. Usually the countdown is usually to whatever injury is going to get him on the sidelines, watching with some sort of cast or sling on. As you who read my columns know, I am one of Mathews biggest non-believers. I want him on any team but ours.
Mathews tenure in San Diego has been an abject failure and its time to plug that gaping hole with a blue chip back in the draft who can stay on the field, run for positive yardage, pick up the tough first down and most importantly, keep the ball secured in the red zone. These are all things Mathews has failed to do in his time in San Diego. Open the Chargers suggestion box and you will find a piece of paper with my name with the words T.J. Yeldon written on it.
However, after the last two weeks is it time to reconsider 24?
The same Ryan Mathews that has been missing for long stretches of time during the first five games of the season has now gotten 20+ carries in each of the last two games and Mathews has compiled 102 yards against Indianapolis and 110 against Jacksonville. Is 20 some sort of magic number for running backs? Mathews got 19 against Dallas and only gained 62 yards. What it truly means is new offensive coordinator has found a way to coach up Mathews and work the game plan and blocking schemes to help Mathews gain yards. Mathews has finally shown the downhill, power running style that looked so good in the preseason but has been nonexistent for the first five games of the season.
Is Mike McCoy buying in?
No one will admit or mention it but Mathews ineffectiveness in the first five games has to be because of lack of trust that he could get the job done. Mathews wasn’t injured and usually resurfaced in random spots in the fourth quarter but you don’t leave your feature back on the sideline with the game on the line unless you don’t trust him. All of a sudden he gets a bigger workload and backs up the added carries with consecutive 100-yard games. Going forward its safe to assume the coaching staff will trust Mathews with more carries as long as his numbers stay comparable to his recent output.
Should we as fans buy back in on Mathews?
If the running game gets on track, this offense can be special. Philip Rivers has already proven he was never ‘broken’ as so many talking heads spouted during the offseason and at the present time is a top five quarterback in the league. Going into the Monday Night Football game against Indianapolis, the Colts were ranked in the top 10 in total defense. I, like many others, watched in amazement as Mathews gashed the Colts D for big chunks of yardage. As Mathews broke off a 11-yard run off left tackle on first down I tried to remember the last time I saw that happen and couldn’t think of any. Double digit yard carries for Mathews are usually few and far between but he has been doing it multiple times in each of the last two games. No one is more shocked than at Mathews finally showing a pulse in the run game than I am.
Mathews has helped his own and the Chargers cause in two respects. Next year is the last season of his rookie contract. 1. The Chargers can cut him and save 1.4 million against the salary cap, making him a free agent. 2. They can resign him to a veteran deal for another number of years if they feel he will continue to be the feature back moving factor. 3. With Mathews gaining momentum with his rushing and the trade deadline on Thursday, October 29th there would be no shortage of teams who would make an offer for Mathews services. His stock can’t be higher than it is right now. The Chargers could add depth at wide receiver, defensive line or in the secondary should they choose to go with the running back by committee approach, not to mention adding draft picks.
Buying back in on 24?
At least not yet.
Where has this been for four seasons? We were fooled by this before in 2011. Mathews had his one and only thousand yard season in 2011 (1,091) which also was the last time he had a 100 yard game. It has literally been two years since his last 100 yard game. That season, he had four games over 100 yards rushing, one with 98 and one with 90. To buy back in, Mathews is going to have to show he can keep this kind of pace an entire season. Two games is a nice start but he has to show he can sustain it. The Chargers are 6-1 in the seven games where Mathews has rushed over 100 yards in his career.
We’re all excited to see the running game getting on track. Perhaps Mathews is feeling threatened seeing Danny Woodhead usurp so much of his field time. Perhaps the coaches have enough live action information on the entire offense to formulate the best rushing offense. Whatever the reason is, a successful running game equals wins and with the momentum of a two-game winning streak coming out of the bye week, it’s what the Chargers need to be able to catch Denver and Kansas City. I am rooting for Mathews to keep up this pace for the good of the team. Am I removing myself as the leader of the #Fire24 movement? Still carrying that flag, but slowing down enough to watch instead of doing wind sprints around the stadium college football style.
What about you Bolt Nation? Are you buying back in on 24? Next episode in two days…
The Greg One