Is Ryan Mathews Breaking Out or Returning to Form?

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

A common theme when talking about Chargesr running back Ryan Mathews this season is that he is having a breakout year. But is that really the case?

It hasn't been a secret that the common story pushed about Ryan Mathews this season is that he is having a "breakout" year. That really isn't the case, though. Mathews already broke out in 2011, and is just returning to form after an injury and Norv-plagued 2012.

Just a cursory look at the traditional season totals tell the tale

  • 2011: 14 games, 222 carries, 1091 rushing yards, 4.9 yds/carry, 50 receptions, 455 receiving yards, 6 touchdowns
  • 2013: 14 games, 236 carries, 1012 rushing yards, 4.3 yds/carry, 21 receptions, 158 receiving yards, 7 touchdowns

Just looking at those totals, which one would you say qualifies as a "breakout" year?

Some would argue here that Mathews has had more explosiveness this season, consistently breaking off more big runs. That isn't necessarily true either, as Mathews had 8 games with at least one run of 20+ yards in 2011, and only 4 such games this season. In fact, Mathews has 4 games this season where he did not even have a 10 yard run, versus only 1 such game in 2011.

What about advanced statistics, such as those from Football Outsiders and Pro Football Focus? This season Ryan Mathews ranks 17th in DYAR and 20th in DVOA at Football Outsiders. In 2011 he was 6th in DYAR and 10th in DVOA. This season Mathews ranks 29th with a PFF score of +4.4 among backs taking at least 25% of team snaps. In 2011, he was 20th with a score of +5.3.

One area that Mathews has made significant progress is in holding on to the ball. He posted 10 fumbles total in 2010-2011, but only has 4 over the same number of games in 2012-2013, a fairly dramatic improvement.

Make no mistake, Mathews is having a very good season. He is nearly playing at the level he was in 2011, and while he probably won't ever join the ranks of the elite backs in the NFL, he will be a key piece in a consistent rushing offense.

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