There were plenty of positives that emerged from the San Diego Chargers’ improbable push to the playoffs and then their one postseason victory. Philip Rivers dispelled the thoughts that he couldn’t perform under pressure, Keenan Allen became a household name on everyone’s 2014 fantasy football sleeper list and even the defense showed some serious life down the stretch.
One thing that wasn’t so upbeat about the team’s late-season run and subsequent playoff push was running back Ryan Mathews’ recurring date with the injury bug.
Coming into the season, much of the talk surrounding Mathews referred to the dubious stat of him only playing in 38 out of a possible 48 games during his three-year career. That’s why the new coaching staff with Mike McCoy and previous offensive coordinator (now Tennessee Titans head coach) Ken Whisenhunt made a concerted effort to keep him fresh throughout the year.
The signing of Danny Woodhead aided that cause while the timeless Ronnie Brown also provided a three-headed look to the Bolts’ rushing attack. Mathews still paced the team in carries with a career-high 285, but the 106 totes from Woodhead and 45 runs by Brown helped distribute the run-heavy workload a little bit. This worked like a charm through the majority of the regular season, but a Week 16 victory over the Oakland Raiders is where Mathews’ old nemesis came returned.
A dreaded high-ankle sprain occurred in that game but wasn’t reported as such until after the team’s loss this past weekend against the Denver Broncos in the AFC Divisional Round. Many found it curious that Mathews essentially disappeared in the Wild-Card matchup with the Cincinnati Bengals in the second-half with Woodhead carrying the load, but now the word comes out that his ankle was just too painful at halftime for him to continue in that game and the game in Denver this past Sunday. It just so happens that this injury coincided with Mathews’ heaviest workload of the season as from Weeks 14-17 he had 29, 29, 25 and 24 carries respectively to close out the year.
So now the biggest question has to be can Mathews ever hold up to the rigors of being a workhorse running back in the NFL or was his performance down the stretch and resulting injury just a perfect illustration of his limitations as a player?
Though he was awesome in the playoff games when he was able to stay on the field, 13 carries and a mere five totes aren’t exactly what the offense needs out of him to be successful. It seems like the Chargers may need to go shopping for a new running back this offseason, and perhaps the perfect fit could come in the 2014 NFL Draft not too far from home.
Ka’Deem Carey of Arizona is an early entry to the draft coming in May, and he has the workhorse qualities that the Bolts may be looking for in their new offense. At just 5-foot-10, 198-pounds he may not seem like a powerful runner on the surface, but Carey can move the pile and really take on tacklers to move the chains. He is currently rated as the top back in the draft so he might be a bit out of the team’s reach at present, but general manager Tom Telesco has shown a willingness to move up and get a player he truly covets. Given the fit that Carey presents and the durability issues that continue to haunt Mathews, maybe he should make the former Wildcat a priority this offseason.