Chargers Playbook Confidential: Ryan Mathews, Feature Back

Jeff Gross - Getty Images

We've already hashed out the poor pass protection and turnover issues in the game vs the Falcons. Ryan Mathews was a big part of both problems, but he's also the team's most dynamic player on offense.

For one exciting quarter of football, the return of Ryan Mathews to the Chargers running game was a breath of fresh air. Mathews found the edge, hit holes and broke tackles in ways that the likes of Curtis Brinkley and Ronnie Brown simply can't. Mathews was the feature back until the game was decided. He didn't come out for 3rd down, goal line, or two minute drill situations as in past years. There was no Mike Tolbert waiting in the wings to vulture the touchdowns. His single game rushing DVOA would place him just outside the top third of running backs if he had enough carries to qualify. But then Mathews fumbled... and then Rivers was in his ear about pass protection mistakes... the wheels fell off and the run game was abandoned.

I don't think Mathews' Run % ever got below 60% in previous years. In a game like this he would have been pulled for Tolbert. We had been expecting more of the same this year, with Brown playing the part of Tolbert. It was a big change for Norv Turner to rely on Mathews so heavily in the passing game. One has to wonder if Turner believes Mathews' pass protection has evolved, or if he simply has no other choice. In any case, that healthy 4.9 YPC was something the team had been missing. For the second straight week, Battle has gaudy, if pointless numbers from a small sample.

Halfback Snaps Running Plays Passing Plays Run % YPC
Mathews 45 11 34 24% 4.9
Battle 3 3 0 100% 18.3
Brinkley 7 1 6 14% 6

The fact that Mathews lead the team in first downs shows how desperately they need him to figure out pass protection and eliminate turnovers. He really is the most electric player on this team.

First Downs
Mathews 5
Floyd 3
Meachem 2
Royal 2
Gates 1
Battle 1

Analyzing the Data

Digging into the log this week bears out typical pass whacky, shotgun spread offense that we're used to seeing while playing from behind. Every single down favored the pass.

Down Run Pass Total
1st 10 15 25
2nd 3 17 20
3rd 2 8 10
Total 15 40 55

The formation data shows a continuation of tendencies established the first two weeks. Ace continues to be a coin flip, shotgun for passing, jumbo for running. Running from spread receiver formations saw a big uptick, but most of those were late in the game against nickel and dime prevent defenses.

Formation Run Pass Total
Ace 4 4 8
I 1 3 4
Shotgun 6 33 39
Jumbo 4 0 4

Receivers Run Pass Total
Single 6 1 7
Base 1 12 13
Double 0 2 2
Spread 8 21 29
Trips 0 2 2
2x2 0 2 2

This Week's Science Experiment

A new feature of the Playbook Confidential log this season is the receiver and tight end strong side, something that we haven't been analyzing thus far. With all three games combined, there are a few things that might be fun to keep an eye out for against the Chiefs. Tight ends to the left, especially when combined with receivers also to the left is quite the passing tell thus far. It's hard to say if this is how Norv likes to use Gates routes, or if this is Mike Harris special treatment. Either way it's a fairly strong and alarming 'tell'. The only power combo that favors the run is receivers to the left with tight ends balanced. Play along at home this week, combining it with what we've learned about the backfield and formation tendencies.

Receivers TE Run % Pass % Total Plays
L L 0% 100% 9
L R 38% 63% 48
L B 65% 35% 17
R L 22% 78% 23
R R 47% 53% 15
R B 45% 55% 11
B L 21% 79% 14
B R 56% 44% 25
B B 39% 61% 18

Next Opponent

Now that three weeks of NFL play have gone by, we can start looking at season long cumulative VOA (DVOA starts next week) and raw yardage. The Kansas City defense this far has been a poster child for misleading raw yardage stats. The VOA ranks show them in the bottom tenth of the league in run and overall defense. The other side of the coin is that the Charger offense is solidly in the bottom third. Both squads play the pass a little better than the run, so there's no obvious mismatch for San Diego to take advantage of (from a team statistics point of view). Keep in mind that for defense VOA, negative is good, while negative is bad for offense VOA.

KC Defense VOA Rank Yards/Game Rank
Run 10.60% #30 123 #22
Pass 33.30% #26 225 #12
Overall 22.80% #30 348 #16

SD Offense VOA Rank Yards/Game Rank
Run -22.00% #27 99 #17
Pass 6.70% #20 219 #22
Overall -10.90% #21 318 #23

All VOA, DVOA, YAR and DYAR statistical values are developed, calculated and reported by Football Outsiders. Their explanation can be found here.

A Playbook Confidential intro can be found here.

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