On November 10, Ryan Mathews ran for 59 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries against the Denver Broncos. It was a solid performance in a long, surprising, string of solid performances against the Broncos in Mathews' career.
In the month since, Mathews has averaged the following stat line:
19 carries, 86.5 rush yds, 0.5 rush tds, 3 catches, 22.25 rec yds
22 touches, 100+ total yards and a touchdown every other game? The kid has finally made the leap and he has his sights set on the Broncos on Thursday night.
During his up and down career, Mathews has always found ways to produce against Denver. In 6 career games against them, he's averaged the following state line against Denver:
20.5 carries, 93.7 rush yds, 0.67 rush tds, 2.3 catches, 14.7 rec yds
Looks pretty similar to the numbers he been putting up against everyone else lately, doesn't it? Expect a big game from Ryan tonight, even after getting 32 touches on Sunday.
As much as I think Mathews will have a big game, I hope that Philip Rivers will. It's not as though I feel that Rivers' success in tonight's matchup is less likely, I just feel like it's more necessary. The Chargers don't have a chance at winning, not even the smallest iota of a chance, without a great game from El Capitan.
For what it's worth, Rivers has been just as good as Peyton Manning has been this season. While it may seem foolish to guarantee that he'll come out and dominate the Broncos, there is enough evidence to believe that it's a possible outcome to tonight's game.
What's interesting to me, right now, is how unpredictable the Chargers have finally become. Thirteen games into the season, Rivers' favorite receiver on crucial downs is.....anyone. It's almost always been Antonio Gates, but he's shown that he's just as comfortable throwing that pass to Keenan Allen, Seyi Ajirotutu and, sometimes, Vincent Brown. In addition, Ryan Mathews being on the field no longer means that it's a running play. Even the defense has gotten less predictable, with the safeties changing responsibilities and the front seven changing personnel from week to week.
I've always felt like the key to a good team, and a good passing attack, is unpredictability. Keenan Allen may be the only deep threat on the team for now, but he's one of five or six guys that Rivers will throw crucial passes to during each game. It's a lot more difficult to guard five or six guys than it is to guard just one, allowing Rivers to take what the defense gives him.
Also, on a final note, Philip looks about ten times more comfortable playing QB behind King Dunlap at left tackle than he was with D.J. Fluker over there. Dunlap leaving the last Chargers game against the Broncos early helped contribute to that loss, and him being in there this week will help San Diego win.
When it gets to December in the NFL, a lot of the winners around the league are determined by which team wants the win more. Keenan Allen even pointed out last week that the Giants didn't want to win.
It's not that I think the Broncos don't want to win tonight's game, I just think the Chargers want it more. San Diego is holding off to their playoff hopes by a thread, but they know that they have the ability on offense to beat anyone and they'd love to test that theory in the postseason. Also, wins against the Broncos in Denver and the Chiefs in Kansas City would be a warning shot that the Chargers are ready to be contenders for the division title next season.
The Broncos are a team full of veterans, and they're not too healthy at the moment. They don't need to win this game against the Chargers, because wins against the Texans and Raiders in the final two weeks will guarantee them the division crown and probably a bye week to start the playoffs.
I'm not saying Denver doesn't want to win, I'm saying that they don't need to. The Chargers do, making them hungrier as well as healthier. In a Thursday night game, sometimes that is all that really matters.