By Dave Thomas
Despite high praise when he was chosen with the 12th overall pick by the San Diego Chargers in the 2010 NFL Draft, running back Ryan Mathews has been anything but stellar for the Bolts.
Yes, the former Fresno State product can run with the best of them when he’s healthy and his head is in the game (meaning hanging onto the ball in key situations). Unfortunately, he’s had problems with both scenarios since joining the Chargers.
Mathews, who lost a key fumble in Sunday’s 33-30 win over the Eagles in Philadelphia, has gotten a reputation around the NFL (including with the media) of being a guy who puts the ball on the field in key situations. The most notable situations are when the Chargers are knocking on the other team’s doorstep.
With the Chargers marching for a touchdown against the Eagles, a game they could have won by two touchdowns or more (tight end Antonio Gates also fumbled inside the red zone while reaching for the goal line), Mathews was stripped of the ball inside the 10 yard line. As a result, the Eagles stopped San Diego from perhaps putting a final nail in their coffin sooner rather than later.
So, what is it about Mathews and fumbles at the most unfortunate times?
Some NFL analysts and/or former running backs may point to the fact that Mathews may feel pressured in being “the” guy in the backfield for the Chargers. Others may be apt to blame San Diego’s offensive line, which has not exactly been Pro Bowl material on a regular basis in recent years. Whatever the problem is, many Charger fans have to keep wondering just how many more times do you put Mathews and the ball together in key situations.
It appears new head coach Mike McCoy was not afraid to answer that question on Sunday, as he went back to Mathews to carry the ball not long after his deadly fumble inside the 10. The same happened last season, as former head coach Norv Turner would give Mathews a number of chances at times to redeem himself after a key turnover or lackluster series of runs.
Chargers Invested Nearly $27 Million in Mathews
Mathews, who inked a five-year nearly $27 million contract with the Bolts back in 2010, can at times overpower opposing defenses when he gets the ball. That sight, however, has not happened nearly enough times for the Chargers and their faithful.
Coming into this season’s action, Mathews had his best production in the 2011 season, rushing for 1,091 yards (222 carries) and six touchdowns. A season ago, Mathews battled injuries (see more below) and finished with 707 yards rushing on 184 attempts. Not terrible numbers, but certainly not stats for a man picked 12th overall in 2010. One stat he’d like to remove, 12 career fumbles since joining the Bolts.
Health is Also a Concern
His other problem has been staying healthy.
In the 2012 preseason opener against Green Bay, Mathews broke his right clavicle, leaving him out of action for about a month and a half. His season did not any better, as he broke his left clavicle in a mid-December home loss to Carolina, ending his 2012 campaign.
Although healthy so far in 2013, there is little doubt Charger fans are holding their breath each time he touches the ball. Will it be another key fumble or another serious injury?
Another concern for Charger fans: who do you go to if Mathews is given the bench?
Ronnie Brown is in the latter stages of his career, while newly acquired Danny Woodhead is not an every down back by any means. Given that quarterback Philip Rivers is not a running option say like a Michael Vick, Mathews is pretty much the go-to guy at this point.
While the tools are there for Ryan Mathews to leave the NFL one day as one of its better backs in recent times, the potential for what could have been is unfortunately also right there too.
For more Chargers news and updates, visit Chargers Central.
Dave Thomas has been covering the sports world since his first job as a sports editor for a weekly newspaper in Pennsylvania back in 1989. He has covered a Super Bowl, college bowl games, MLB, NBA and more. His work can be found on Examiner.com.