Plenty of pundits have billed this as the make-or-break season for running back Ryan Mathews. The new regime with the San Diego Chargers has been quite supportive of the beleaguered back as head coach Mike McCoy has publicly supported him as the team’s primary ball carrier. His latest comments, however, could contradict those thoughts of Mathews being a workhorse for the Bolts.
According to Alex Marvez of FOXSports.com, McCoy said:
“I’ve been raised with [Denver Broncos head coach] John Fox in this league. We always played with a couple of backs. It doesn’t matter who’s in there. Keep them fresh. That’s the big thing. Play the hot hand while you roll. If you’ve got to tap out for a play or two, we’ll put the next guy in.”
Now obviously McCoy isn’t going to keep Mathews in even if he’s gassed, but this suggests that both Danny Woodhead and Ronnie Brown could see some significant snaps in 2013. The Broncos had three guys with 85 carries or more last season with McCoy as offensive coordinator, and the highest carry total belonged to Willis McGahee at just 167. Injuries certainly played a role in that, but that’s a fairly even distribution as far as workload is concerned.
McCoy’s reference to coach Fox makes one wonder about the Carolina Panthers where DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart had 216 and 221 carries respectively for a near even split in 2009.
The main difference between the current setup in San Diego and Carolina’s configuration is that Stewart is a between the tackles bruiser while Williams is a more edge runner with speed and versatility in the passing game. For the Bolts, both Woodhead and Mathews are similar, well-rounded players with the ability to run inside or outside with relative success. Both are also quite capable as receiving targets out of the backfield.
Certainly the timeless Ronnie Brown will factor in as well as he has always made his money in the NFL as a third-down back with his receiving skills and blitz pick-up recognition. A three-headed attack could look more similar to the style utilized in Denver where Peyton Manning was at the helm. That could signal big things for quarterback Philip Rivers in year one under McCoy’s system.
Regardless of how the carries are apportioned, the Chargers would be wise to keep feeding whoever is having success in the running game. Last season the Bolts averaged the second least rushing yards per attempt in the entire league at just 3.6 per carry. Their 91.3 rushing yards per game as a team ranked 27th as well which hints at just how inept they were a year ago.
What fans really have to hope for this season is that there is at least marginal improvement in the ground game in 2013. A quarterback’s best friend is a consistent rushing attack, and Rivers has been without that threat for the past three seasons. Hopefully the strategy of feeding the hot hand will pay off for the Bolts in the upcoming campaign.