On Sunday, the Chargers sent a pretty clear message about the importance of holding onto the ball to running back Ryan Mathews.
The former first-round pick sat on the bench behind Jackie Battle at the start of the game and had just four carries through the first three quarters as the Chargers went with Battle as their lead back while running up a big lead over the Chiefs. Mathews also had just one touch when the team was in the red zone, an area where coach Norv Turner suggested that Mathews would see fewer touches in the coming weeks and months. In spite of all that, Turner also said that the team had “great trust” in Mathews.
“We just have a lot of guys that can make plays,” Turner said, via Michael Gehlken of the San Diego Union-Tribune. “I thought it was important to let Jackie start the game. I wanted to make sure we got into a rhythm. We had a plan for specific things for Ryan, and I thought he responded in the four minutes right there at the end. He was rolling and hitting it. You ask about the confidence I have in him. We’re trying to put the game away, and he’s the guy handling the ball, so I think that answers that question.”
Mathews had 10 carries in the fourth quarter, a role that Turner is suggesting was given to him because the Chargers felt confident in his ability to close out the Chiefs. Seeing as how the score was 27-13 to open the quarter and that Battle still got the red zone touches, the usage during the first three quarters might paint a fuller picture of the message the Chargers were sending to Mathews.
That will likely change when the team has a need for a more dynamic offensive option out of the backfield, but Sunday went well enough for the Chargers to win a game and let Mathews know what his role will be if he keeps putting the ball on the ground.