Ryan Mathews may very well be the best offensive player on the San Diego Chargers roster today. Despite the fact that he missed the entire preseason, he's come right out of the trainer's room to average 4.5 yards per carry.
Norv's not stupid (shut up, he's not). He knows that he has a game-changing weapon in his backfield. He also knows that Mathews is injury-prone, somewhat fumble-prone and could potentially get Philip Rivers killed with his blocking. That may have mattered before, but it doesn't anymore. This team needs to rely on their playmakers, flaws and all, and that starts with Mathews.
In four games this season, Mathews has gotten 15, 16, 18 and 26 touches (in that order). I expect another game with 25-30 touches out of him, and an offense that's much more focused on running the ball than throwing it. That's a good thing for Chargers fans.
Must Win Game
The San Diego Chargers sit tied atop their division with a 3-3 record. 62.5% of the regular season had yet to be played for them. Anything could happen, right? Well, yes, but at some point pride has to kick in. At some point, Norv Turner has to say "No more. You screw up, you go to the locker room and start writing an apology letter to your teammates." At some point, Philip Rivers has to find whatever controlled rage he played with before that made him a top 5 Quarterback.
Most importantly, at some point, Dean Spanos will have enough of this. The loss to the Falcons earlier this year was one thing. That team is a steamroller. The embarrassment to the New Orleans Saints on national television? These things happen, and the refs didn't help. Losing to a divisional rival after having a 24-0 lead at halftime? That's not forgiveable. That's not a outlier. That is a symptom of the cancer that seems to have worked it's way throughout Spanos' entire organization (for what it's worth, I mostly consider him a bystander in that).
This is a do-or-die game. For the players, for the fans, for the coaching staff and maybe the GM. If the Chargers find a way to lose to this 1-5 Browns team on Sunday, they will unquestionably be the biggest embarrassment in the league. Dean Spanos will start tossing people off the boat, in the middle of the ocean, with anchors tied around their necks instead of life vests.
That has to count for something, right? Norv's teams always do seem to play their best under mid-season stress.
Let me take you back to 2010. Vincent Jackson and Marcus McNeill were ghosts, spending half the season protesting their contract situations. Antonio Gates missed more time than he ever has before, and limped around slowly rather than "ran" when he actually played. Antwan Barnes was a savior of sorts because Shawne Merriman was finally figured out to be a shell of what he used to be.
Somehow, that team competed for a division title. Why? Philip Rivers. We went into ever game thinking "I don't care who is or who isn't playing. Rivers can be throwing to the cheerleaders and we'd still be a competitive team." All we needed was El Capitan and the team would at least be good.
That was then. This is now. The new "Chargers player that is so good that he can almost carry the team on his back" is Eric Weddle. Unfortunately for Bolt fans, Weddle can't be as big a factor on the game as a Quarterback. In fact, opposing QBs spend a lot of time actively avoiding him to reduce his impact on the game. Still, he's an elite Safety and he tends to come up big in big situations. I wouldn't be surprised to see a pick and a defensive touchdown from his this week.