On paper Ryan Mathews has everything you want in a running back. Size, power, speed, agility, balance. He's a natural runner. Aside from untimely fumbles, he's looked very efficient when he's seen the field. However, one area he has yet to shine (in 2012 at least), is that of breaking off long runs. Given how inconsistent our passing game has been, it's imperative we are more than just "consistent" in our running game, but that we gain large-chunks of yardage at a time.
According to Pro Football Focus, RM ranks 45 of 50 backs (min 43 carries) in % of carries that went for 15 or more yards (a "breakaway run" at they title it). He only has 1 such run in his 82 carries, and the 5 backs ranked below him all have yet to record one. Granted, the Chargers team 15yd+% is 25th in the league (and visually there seems to be correlation between an individual back's rank & his team's), but when we remove RM's numbers from the total, the % is large enough to rank 10th in the league (almost 4% higher than RM's breakaway%). In addition, based on observation (& on PFF's grades), our line's run-blocking is actually better than last season.
What makes this all the more curious, is that RM ranks 18th (of 50 RB min 43 carries) in PFF's Elusive Rating (combining both rush-yards after-contact, and % of touches forcing a missed tackle) (ranking 18th, 18th, & 21st in YACo, (total)MT%, and (rush)MT% respectively). This means he excels at making things happen & stealing yards that aren't there. We would expect him to have more long runs in spite of poor offensive line play.
Strangely, in 2011 RM was ranked a similar 19th in ER, but 10th in Breakaway%. A pairing of these ranks is more along the lines of what I'd expect (an elusive back is able to breakaway), and 10th is down right impressive. This is where I open up the question to any readers: What's wrong with Ryan Mathews? Is he making wrong reads? Has he been "unlucky" and been inches away from being able to make a breakaway? Is it some mental/physical remnant of his clavicle break? Most agree our offensive line is better at run-blocking than last year, so why is Ryan Mathews seemingly stunted? If RM was used more often, and his Breakaway% increase to even middle of the pack, I'd have to imagine it would greatly help our offense and take a lot of pressure off the passing game.