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Chargers, Mathews Finding No Room to Run

Posted Dec 3, 2012

Every offense in the NFL wants balance.

Unfortunately for the Chargers, they were forced to go pass-heavy in Sunday’s loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. 

Ryan Mathews had just nine attempts on the afternoon, the fewest attempts he’s had since last November against the Oakland Raiders.  That certainly isn’t good enough for a rusher as talented as the Chargers’ third-year back. 

“I would (like more carries),” he said. “That’s me.  But, I’m going to do whatever I can and do whatever I’m asked for the team.  Whether that’s two carries or 25 carries, no matter what it is.  I’m going to try to make the most of my opportunities and help the team win.”

There’s no denying this hasn’t been a banner year for Mathews, who has 146 carries for 594 yards and one touchdown in 10 games. Still, there aren’t many runners more talented than the Chargers third year back.  But it hasn’t translated onto the field this season. Fresh off a 1,091-yard, six-touchdown Pro Bowl campaign in 2011, a lot was expected out of the dynamic back this season.  Suffering a broken clavicle on his first carry of the preseason set him back, and he’s struggled to find his footing this season as a result.  

 “The only thing I can pinpoint is me,” said Mathews. “I have to make the most of my opportunities.  I’m not getting 20-25 carries a game, but the carries I am getting I have to make the most of them.  It all starts with me and the boys.  We’ve got the talent and everything we need, we just need to go.”

While Mathews is capable of performing at a higher level than he has been, there are other extenuating circumstances that could be cause for his numbers to suffer.

On Sunday in particular, the Chargers offense was forced to settle with a reshuffled offensive line that lacked continuity and chemistry. Kevin Haslam, who was on the practice squad until eight days ago, came in for an injured Jeromey Clary during the Chargers first series of the game and played the rest of the match at right tackle.  Later in the second quarter, Rex Hadnot replaced Tyronne Green at left guard.  And Mike Harris, an undrafted rookie free agent, was certainly not expected to be the starter heading into the season.  All of this reshuffle is tough not only for quarterback Philip Rivers to acclimate to, but it’s also tough for a running back to find a groove and anticipate where the holes are going to be.

Head coach Norv Turner was hesitant to blame the offensive line for the day’s rushing woes as he knows they’ve been placed in an unfamiliar situation.  Still, he did admit that Mathews didn’t have enough room to be effective.

“We struggled to run the ball today against that front,” said Turner. “When you start moving people around in there – you see Jeromey Clary get helped off in the first part, you’ve got a young guy in Michael Harris playing left tackle who has been outstanding in terms of what he’s capable of doing, you see Tyronne come off – then that probably would answer the question for you.  If I need to spell it out better, that is probably a big part of it.  I’m not going to take away from the effort those guys are giving or how hard they’re competing.  Again, I don’t know that I’m going to look at that and say Ryan had a lot of room to run.  When we got him out in space a couple times, when they weren’t playing him man and hugging up to him, he got out in space and made a couple nice runs on a screen and a swing pass.”

After the game, Turner spoke with Mathews in the locker room trying to convey this message to his frustrated running back

 “He just said keep my head up and keep grinding,” said Mathews. “We’ve got to try to find a way to win some games.”

Without a doubt, Mathews has a bright future here in San Diego.  His skill set and pedigree make him a runner who can be a huge threat in the Chargers backfield for many seasons to come.

Unfortunately, just about everything that can go wrong for Mathews has this season, and Sunday’s game was a microcosm of his 2012 campaign.

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