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Wednesday, October 2, 2013
Chargers' run game keeps defenses honest

By Eric D. Williams

SAN DIEGO – When it comes to getting carries, an offensive coordinator is never going to satisfy everyone in the running back room.

Everyone wants their touches. And when a running back is playing in a pass-first offense, those touches can be few and far between. But through four games, San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt has done a nice job of managing the workload between his stable of running backs.

“A lot of it is package-driven,” Whisenhunt said. “We go in there with a lot of different personnel groups, and we have different guys playing in different spots within those groups. If we’re having success with that group, then whatever the rotation is, those guys are going to get more plays on any given Sunday.

“We’re certainly conscious of the fact that Ryan [Mathews] is running the ball very well and we’re trying to get opportunities for him to do that. But Danny [Woodhead] has been playing well for us. Ronnie Brown has been playing well for us. It’s really a good problem to have to be honest with you.”

Ryan Mathews
Ryan Mathews is the Chargers' top rusher and every-down back, but his role changes near the goal line.
San Diego is running the ball only 41.5 percent of the time (148 passing plays vs. 105 running plays). But when the Chargers have run the ball, they've been pretty effective, averaging 105 yards a contest.

Mathews is the team’s every-down back. The Fresno State product has a team-high 226 yards on 64 carries, a 3.5-per-carry average. His longest run is 20 yards. Mathews also has seven catches for 66 yards, including a 14-yard touchdown. But he has not scored on rushing touchdown this season.

According to Pro Football Focus, Mathews has only one carry inside the opponent’s 10-yard line this season, and only four of his carries have come inside the 20-yard line. Brown has handled both carries for San Diego from the opponent’s 1-yard line this season.

Even though he has not received touches near the goal line, Mathews said he’s comfortable with his team’s new offense, and his role in it.

“We've got a bunch of great running backs here that can all make plays,” he said. “If the personnel is called up, and your number is called up, then you go in the game and do your best on every play.”

Woodhead has been used mostly in passing situations and in the red zone. The Chadron State product is the second-leading receiver for the Chargers, with 22 catches for 162 yards. Woodhead had his first, two-touchdown-reception game against Dallas last week, twice beating Cowboys linebacker Bruce Carter on wheel routes.

Woodhead also has 90 yards rushing, and is the closest player in terms of skill set the Chargers have had since losing Darren Sproles to New Orleans in free agency in 2011.

The unselfish Woodhead said that whenever his number is called, he’ll be ready.

“That’s the last thing I’m concerned about is how many touches I get,” Woodhead said. “I don’t want to get into that, because then the focus would be on myself. I want to focus on what we have to do to win the game. And when I’m out there, if I get the touch, I’m going to try and do the best I can with it. But you’ve got to realize that there’s 10 other people helping me if I get yards.”

Brown has been used mostly in goal-line and passing situations. Brown has 55 yards rushing, including a 1-yard touchdown. And then there's Le'Ron McClain, who at 6-foot and 260 pounds remains one of the most bruising lead-blocking fullbacks in the business.

The diversity of runners the Chargers have on the roster allows them to attack opponents in a lot of different ways, keeping defenses from just focusing on Philip Rivers and the passing game.

“I know Ryan would like to get the ball 20 times, but every back would,” San Diego coach Mike McCoy said. “Every receiver wants 10 catches. It’s a team game. There is going to be games from week to week where certain guys are the best guy for the situation.

“Ryan is the guy we are going to pound the ball with. That’s what we put him in there to do, and he did a good job with it running physical and making the most out of his opportunities. We’re going to play a number of guys. We not worrying about giving this guy this many touches, we’re going to do what’s best to win.”