Though the San Diego Chargers are likely to be going up against the B team for the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday due to them resting their starters for the upcoming Wild Card weekend, the Bolts still need to stick to the blueprint that has kept them in contention down the stretch of the season.
Ryan Mathews and the San Diego running game entered 2013 with plenty of question marks. A troubling injury history and issues with holding onto the football were hanging over Mathews’ head in particular, and the signing of Danny Woodhead as a complementary back seemed to be an indictment of the former first round pick telling him to either step up or his time with the Bolts was limited.
Whether or not that was the team’s intention is unknown, but what isn’t such a mystery is that Mathews has been vital to the Bolts’ offensive success this season. His ability to overcome the injury and turnover issues that had plagued him in the past while becoming a more mature runner has fueled this offense. That’s why the Chargers need to dance with who brought them in the final week of the season and feed Mathews the football on a regular basis.
It’s no coincidence that in the past three weeks where Mathews has had 29, 29, and 25 attempts respectively the Bolts have ended up on the right side of the scoreboard. His recent workhorse mentality has carried this team in pretty much every victory this season, and there’s no doubt his running aids Philip Rivers and the passing game.
What maintaining a balanced offense does for San Diego is to keep opposing defenses honest and not allow the safeties to sag back in coverage. Mathews being a consistent threat on the ground forces opponents to hedge against both the rushing and passing games in terms of personnel and formation. This allows the Bolts to sometimes catch the defense with fewer defensive backs on the field and exploit that via the aerial attack of vice versa.
Trying to establish the perfect formula for success with a potential playoff berth being on the line Sunday will be a key for Mike McCoy’s Chargers. They will be aware of just how important this Week 17 contest is before things even kickoff with both the Miami Dolphins and Baltimore Ravens playing earlier in the afternoon, but the running game will be critical to getting a win whether there’s an AFC Wild Card berth on the line or not.