The San Diego Chargers have plenty of changes to deal with if they’re going to win in 2013. While most people look at the NFL as a passing league, the real truth is this: you must have a solid, reliable running game to succeed.
The Chargers had experienced a myriad of troubles in 2012, struggling to a 7-9 record, with no victories over playoff teams. Their protection issues didn’t help, as quarterback Philip Rivers often found himself on his back or hurrying his throws. Once they fell behind, the run game often went by the wayside. Such is the struggle in the NFL, where the answer to the question “how many points do you need?” is always “more.”
Thankfully for the 2013 squad, running back appears to be a relative position of strength. The runners will be led by a returning Ryan Mathews, who broke his right collarbone in the preseason, then broke his left in December, only to be placed on season-ending injured reserve. Mathews never broke the 100-yard mark in the 12 games he appeared in, and rushed for only one touchdown on the year.
New Chargers general manager Tom Telesco is said to be quite high on Mathews, but you have to wonder if he’ll last much longer in San Diego if he were to suffer more injuries this year, or fall short on scoring. While the team didn’t make a move on a running back in the draft, their flirtation with the retired LaDainian Tomlinson must light a fire under Mathews to come in and dominate from day one. Ronnie Brown has been brought back in on another one-year deal, and the team did sign Danny Woodhead in free agency, but those guys are only meant to spell Mathews when he needs a break, and to block and receive in passing situations on third-and-long.
If Mathews can step up and produce at a level reminiscent of his Pro Bowl year in 2011, he’ll help keep defenses honest, and just as importantly, help keep his quarterback standing. His performance is going to be key to how far the Chargers can go in 2013.