Given the injury history and overall struggles of Ryan Mathews, it’s no surprise that the San Diego Chargers are using a running back by committee this season. However, what was surprising on Monday night against the Houston Texans was the distribution of playing time between the team’s backs. Even while playing with a lead for most of the game, the Chargers only gave Mathews 20 snaps of playing time and gave backup Ronnie Brown more snaps with 25.
While most fans will be clamoring for Mathews to receive more time on the field, consider this. On Mathews’ 20 snaps, he touched the ball 15 times (13 runs and two receptions). Even in his fourth year, Mathews has yet to figure out pass protection and it’s pretty clear the coaching staff doesn’t trust him to stay in and block. As of now, Mathews is a one-dimensional player who’s likely to touch the ball whenever he’s on the field. Opposing defenses know this, making the offense quite predictable and hurting Mathews’ effectiveness when on the field.
Until Mathews becomes more versatile, he proves little value to the Chargers. Even if the best thing he does for the team is run the football, he won’t be able to get much production if defenses stack the box knowing he’s getting the ball when he’s on the field.
Expect a whole lot of Ronnie Brown for now. Though he has very little upside at age 31, Brown has the best combination of running, blocking and receiving among San Diego’s running backs. Danny Woodhead, who only received 10 snaps against the Texans, has a similar skill set to Brown and will likely get worked more into the offense as the season moves on. Woodhead missed time in training camp and the first two preseason games due to an undisclosed injury, likely causing him to fall behind Brown. When Woodhead does get up to speed, he could take even more playing time away from Mathews.