Trip-ups in the running game

At the risk of having an emotional fanpost here following a tough loss, I'm going to pose some questions that need to be answered.  The questions revolve mostly around the RB situation and the reasons behind playing certain RB's in certain situations. 

Mike Tolbert:

12 Carries, 11 Yards, 0.9 YPC Average, TD, FUML...and no, that's not a typo. He had more carries than yards. 

These are pretty dismal numbers, but were the result of several things:

  • Running against a stifling defense with very disruptive players along the D-Line and LB'ers.  The Raiders have some good players, I'll give them that much.
  • Poor run blocking at times (I'll defer to PacStud's breakdown when they come out, but can fairly safely say that there are many plays that won't grade out so well: as in several OL with a ZERO on the same play).  I saw several plays where there were already 2 D-Linemen and a LB in the backfield by the time Tolbert got the ball.
  • When a RB-FB Hybrid that is 240+ lbs tries to break the ball to the outside against a speedy defense, you aren't going to gain many yards.

All-in-all, Tolbert had a terrible game running the ball.  I'm not sure if he's getting too cocky about the big play or not but there were many plays where he could have had 2-3 yards easy and he tried to bounce it outside and ended up losing 2-3 instead.  That's not the Tolbert that we had been seeing this season...and that's not his role on this team, either.  Oh yeah, and did I mention that fumble occurred in the Redzone?  When that happens that is points off the board and that can't happen.  Granted, Tolbert had a TD.  If anyone brings that up, I would caution them to go back and look at the TD run...I think most RB's currently in college make that TD with the blocking the way it was.


Darren Sproles

2 carries, 1 yard...again, more carries than yards.  And again, not a typo.  You can do the YPC math yourself.

This is what happens when you call the same worthless play with Sproles in every game.  The defense is looking for the play, and the defense knows how to stop it.  Norv needs to take that draw play to Sproles out of the playbook altogether...or at least take it out for several games.  Teams know to look for that play to Sproles, just like they know to look for the screen.  Norv needs to think of new things to do with Sproles because he is slowly being worked into uselessness.


Ryan Mathews

9 carries, 59 yards, 6.6 YPC...he looked good.  Didn't seem to be feeling any ill effects from his ankle injury, which makes me wonder why he isn't seeing the ball more.  He also should have had a TD the play before Tolbert fumbled, he was laying on top of the defender when he reached the ball across the goalline, yet the Chargers didn't think it warranted a second look.  In the post game press conference Norv said that they didn't show a replay on the big-screen in the stadium (kudos to the Oakland A/V people), but Norv's staff upstairs should have seen the play on TV and told him to review it.  Obviously hindsight is 20/20 and Norv thought they could punch the ball in, but a TD is a TD and you have to challenge that.

So we all agree that Mathews looked far and away the best RB on the Chargers side of the field.  So, where did he go with 3:39 left in the game?  Most say that this is when the 2 min offense goes into effect, and that is on semi-correct.  NFL teams have something called a 4 min offense for burning out the clock as well, and I argue that this drive should have been a combination of the two.  It didn't take us long to move down the field and into field goal position.

Within 5 plays we were well within FG range, and *gasp* Mathews disappears.  Tolbert then comes into the game, Gates gets called for holding, and 2 passing plays later the Raiders score a TD.  This is precisely the situation we drafted Mathews for (if that sounds familiar it is what I was saying immediately after the Kansas City game as well when we failed at the goalline).  He had been the only guy having any success running the ball against Oakland today and once we're in field goal range we need to run the ball.  Running the ball with Mathews is not rolling over and just burning out the clock either, the kid has big play potential as we have all seen so getting the ball in his hands gives us a chance at the game winning TD as well as keeping our offense in FG position.

Okay, now that rant is over and I can say that up until the last 2 drives, I like the way that Norv had used Mathews today.  I was wondering what the deal was in the first half, but in the second I started to see the method to his madness.  He brought in Tolbert to start the game and was using him to pound the ball up the middle (even if Tolbert tried to bounce it) and brought Mathews in more in the 2nd half against a defense that had been pounded by Tolbert in the first half.  Mathews was gashing the worn out defense and keeping them guessing on whether he was running it inside or outside.


So, moving forward, how would I like to see the RB situation change?

  • First step, cut out the fumbles...they're killing us.  Put an arm brace on all our RB's, I don't care.  Mathews seems to hold the ball better with that brace so let's give that bionic arm a try on all of them.
  • Second step, shelve the draw play to Sproles.  It's a waste of a play.  There are better ways to get Sproles the ball.
  • Third step, talk to Tolbert and make sure he knows his role in the offense.  When he gets the ball, he runs it between #62 and #66 (the tackles) and nowhere else.  That's what he does best.  The only times he should be outside the tackles is when he's subbing in or out.
  • Fourth step, find a more creative use for the $6M+ man...I like Sproles on the swing passes.  I like when they flex Sproles out to the slot and he's matched up on a LB.  I would like to see Sproles on some toss sweeps.  There are more ways to get Sproles open in space than just draw plays and screen passes.  Using him as a pass protector on 3rd downs (and not much else) is a waste of his talents.
  • Fifth step, continue the 1-2 punch with Tolbert and Mathews.  Keep Tolbert running the ball between the tackles in the first half, wearing down the D-Line and LB's...then bring in fresh young legs in the second half and let him be himself: running through, over, and around the defense.  This also will keep both guys from taking too much abuse over the course of a game.
  • Sixth step, don't use Gates as a run blocker, we all know that's not his strength.  I'd rather see Gates going out for a pass as he will probably take a DB and LB with him and he'll effectively take more guys out of the play than he would if he were blocking them.

That's about all I can think of for now, thanks for listening.

This FanPost was written by a member of the Bolts From The Blue community and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Bolts From The Blue editors or SB Nation.

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