Ryan Mathews Needs To Step Up In 2012

2012 will be year three for running back Ryan Mathews in his NFL career and although last year was a step in the right direction, the team certainly hopes that the coming season will be a breakout one for the former Fresno State Bulldog. This year, the stage will belong to Mathews with Mike Tolbert’s departure for the Carolina Panthers via free agency and that will mean an every down responsibility on the shoulders of the12th overall pick in 2010.

The Bolts’ coaching staff seems to believe that Mathews is more than ready to make that jump to the elite category as a ball carrier. Head Coach Norv Turner said: “I personally think he’s ready to take that next step, that means, to me, the production goes way up, and he’s more of the guy that is on the field most of the time. I think he’s grown a lot in terms of understanding his responsibility when the ball is in his hand.”

Perhaps the place to begin this discussion is with the responsibility portion of that quote where Mathews has been less than responsible holding onto the pigskin during his first two seasons. With 9 fumbles credited to him during that timeframe, there is no denying the fact that there are some issues to be addressed with ball security.

Injuries are also an area of real concern for the Chargers who now have an even thinner backfield and cannot afford to have Mathews miss any time in 2012. If the past is any indication however, expecting Mathews to be on the field for all sixteen games this coming season might be wishful thinking. In 2010 as a rookie, the back missed four games due to injury and even last year he sat out two contests.

Two areas where ball carriers can’t fall short are durability and ball security. Both of those parts of Mathews’ game are suspect at best to this point of his short career.

The Chargers have said goodbye to some top notch running backs over the past five years beginning with Michael Turner, then LaDainian Tomlinson, and on to Darren Sproles and Mike Tolbert in the last two offseasons. All of this leaves Bolts’ fans longing for that next high-quality back to again turn this offense into a balanced attack capable of beating opponents on the ground or through the air.

There was an addition this offseason in the backfield that could make an impact for the club as former Baltimore Ravens’ running back Le’Ron McClain signed with the Bolts. He proved capable as a fill-in during the 2008 campaign when he racked up 902 yards and 10 touchdowns. His prowess as a goal line back will also be a nice safety blanket for the team as Mathews has yet to show the ability to gain the tough yards.

One area where Mathews is sure to continue to excel is as a pass catcher where he had 50 grabs a year ago and has the ability to make defenders miss in space on the perimeter. More designed plays of this style with blocking leading the way could be a great way to be an extension of the running game and help to move the chains.

It will also greatly help Mathews if the play calling by Norv Turner in 2012 is less predictable with more first down play action calls or screen passes to keep defenses guessing. Instead of running the ball up the middle on nine out of ten first downs, the Chargers would be a much more effective offense if the calls were a bit more diversified. Mathews stands a better chance at living up to Turner’s lofty expectations if the coach goes a bit more unconventional with the playbook this year.

Clearly the biggest factor in deciding just how well Mathews fares this season is the play of the Chargers’ offensive line. It is a line that will be without its best run blocker from seasons past in Kris Dielman and a bit unproven across the board. The veteran of the group is center Nick Hardwick, but unless the unit can be cohesive, stay healthy, and play together, Mathews can only get so far on his own.

2011 saw some nice progress from Mathews as a runner, but it remains difficult to get beyond his shortcomings of frequent fumbles and being injury-prone when attempting to predict the future. If he is able to overcome these hurdles in the coming year, the Chargers could be back in the hunt for a trip to the Super Bowl. If Mathews again coughs up the ball and misses critical games due to injury, it could be more of the same.

Now it’s your turn! Do you agree with Norv Turner that Mathews is ready to take that next step as a back in the league? Will injuries and fumbles be Mathews’ undoing or will he overcome those issues to thrive in the coming season? Can the Bolts’ offensive line block effectively enough for Mathews to do his thing carrying the pigskin? Does the success of the Chargers as a team rest on the shoulders of Mathews in 2012? Please fill up the comments section below with your thoughts!

May 29, 2012

Join our team:


Pete Spinning said... May 29, 2012, 1:15:00 PM

Yes, this season depends on Mathews. The season depends on every player on the team... this year is very different than years past. So many jobs, and so many expectations are riding on the 2012 season. Maybe we are "under the radar" for the experts & analysts @ The NFL Network... but, there are HIGH expectations when it comes to the fans. The fans are restless, and want to see a winning team! Especially now that every team in the division smells blood, and is improving. Healthy, and fumble free is something that HAS to happen for Ryan Mathews. If we are at the point where we have to bring in a veteran running back, just in case Mathews gets injured again.. then we definitely need to start thinking about another high draft pick back in 2013, unless Mathews has that "break out" year, without getting hurt, and being a butter-fingers. He has a full-back now, so it's make-or-break time! GO BOLTZ!!!

RaiderHater said... May 29, 2012, 2:02:00 PM

Absolutivity....bro-hammmmm! He needs to be the "Big Baller" this year, with the new support of McClain and others, all he needs to do is first hang on to the freaking ball FOOL! He is so dynamic once he gets into the open field..that is where his talent shows off! The line has to make the holes and let him go. Norv has to open up his playbook all this year for all plays...with so much new talent and a much improved Division, we can't be like old Norv...run-run-pass BS! I see 3 back sets, 2 TE and him, sweeps from backfield 4 wide outs, 3 wide and 2 TE and more...Norv has to be creative. Injuries, well he has been a bit of a China Doll...but he showed me many times the willingness to play hard even when hurt. That is what we want to see, and he isn't one to quit. I love being "under the radar"...best place to be...remember the Texans? All of a sudden as the year neared the end they became the talk of the TV....and the Giants were in controversy with their coach being fired midway...lucky for them they stuck it out. Let the media Love Up on Denver Ponies...I want to be picked last (huh really that is always the Raiders spot), then sneak up quietly and beat the freaking hell out of all of them. I am talking the wrath...gotta start fast and play every game like it is a playoff game (hummm remember those - - yeah tough to recall huh?). Right now the LA Kings are showing us that any Team came become a winner no matter what seed they started or how they got there... Go Kings and the Bolts first game is coming fast - Get Ready for a Party~

Pete Spinning said... May 31, 2012, 4:01:00 PM

Go Kings!!! And, yes... we need to beat the hell out of everyone! Not just the teams in our division, either. I want Steelers blood.. I want Bengals blood... I want Saints blood... I want Falcons blood... I want Bucs blood... I want Panther blood... I want Packers blood... I want Cowboys blood.. I want 49'er blood!!!!! But most of all... I want Jets blood!!!! Personally, I can't wait to see the Ravens game this year, either. No Suggs, and we''l see which was the better pick between Ingram & Upshaw. Now.... RELEASE THE KRAKEN!

RaiderHater said... Jun 1, 2012, 9:10:00 AM

KINGS - One game up and soon 2 !!!! They are awesome this year - breaking records dare I say! I can only hope the Bolts are just such a Team this year. And Hell Yeah...all of them make it a Blood Bath...and yes I hate the Jets (not as much as the Raiders) but damn close my friend. Lovin' It!!

Post a Comment

What's your take? Registration is not required but we encourage you guys to at least use some sort of screen name to help identify one another in discussions. Use Name/URL If You Don't Sign In Please!


Newer Post Older Post Home Page

This Week's Popular Posts



  Pro Football Talk

  USA Today


  San Diego Union - Tribune

  Yahoo! Sports

  ESPN - AFC West

  FOX Sports