Last year was the first season that Ryan Mathews played all 16 regular season games. With health no longer a concern, the young tailback (finally) showed his true potential, carrying the ball 285 times for 1,255 yards. Mathews finished fourth in the league in rushing attempts and seventh in total rushing yards, yet only managed to score six rushing touchdowns (tied for 19th). As a result, the San Diego Chargers struggled in the red zone.
The Chargers responded in the offseason by signing Donald Brown during free agency. The former Indianapolis Colts RB was efficient during 2013, scoring six rushing touchdowns on just 102 attempts – five came in the red zone. Brown’s ability to find the end zone will play a big role in determining if the Bolts will be contenders or pretenders in 2014.
Brown has always been a role player in the NFL. Entering his sixth season, the 27-year-old has never carried the ball more than 135 times in one year. When Trent Richardson failed to impress after being traded from the Cleveland Browns, Brown capitalized on his opportunity and exceeded expectations. Refusing to go down after contact, Brown averaged a career-high 5.3 yards per attempt and never fumbled the football.
Did you hear that Charger fans? He doesn’t fumble.
In fact, Brown hasn’t fumbled the football since his rookie season in 2009. Having a player like Brown, who can be trusted in key situations (like the red zone), will be reassuring to coaches and fans alike. Last year, the Chargers ranked first in the league in time of possession (33.35), first in third-down conversions (49 percent), third in first downs per game (23.4) and fifth in yards per game (393.3), but only 12th in touchdowns (41).
The running game was abandoned inside the 20-yard line out of fear that Mathews might do his best impression of himself and cough one up for the opposing defense. The Chargers’ offense became one-dimensional. This will change thanks to the addition of Brown and the ball security he brings between the tackles.
From Mathews and Brown to the elusive Danny Woodhead, San Diego’s three-headed monster may be the scariest backfield in football. The last time San Diego had such a thing was with LaDainian Tomlinson, Michael Turner and Darren Sproles.
That terrifying trio came within one game of reaching the Super Bowl in 2007, but fell to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in a heartbreaker. I wonder what this new trio of backs is capable of accomplishing.