Sha-nanigans have opened a West Coast bureau.
That’s the only explanation for what’s going on in San Diego, where the Chargers have gone from praying for Ryan Mathews’ return to claiming he’s behind Jackie Battle on the depth chart.
How did we get here? A collarbone, a fumble and a horrendously bad Chiefs team, for starters.
First things first. If you’re one of those fantasy owners who believes Mathews is all hype...how do we put this? You’re wrong.
Mathews finished as fantasy’s No. 7 running back last season despite 1) Missing two games. 2) Playing just 48 percent of the Chargers’ offensive snaps. 3) Watching Mike Tolbert vulture eight rushing touchdowns.
He averaged 5.7 yards per touch, which led all backs with at least 200 combined carries and receptions. Over his final five games, he totaled 587 yards from scrimmage.
Again, if you believe Mathews’ reputation is driven by an overzealous fantasy community, here’s your bus stop.
The dominant play led to no shortage of offseason cooing from coach Norv Turner and the like.
March 28: Turner says he expects a “breakout, big-time year” from Mathews.
May 27: Turner says he believes Mathews is capable of leading the NFL in rushing, and that “personally (I) think he’s ready to take that next step. … That means, to me, the production goes way up, and he’s more of the guy that is on the field most of the time."
May 29: Turner confirms he expects Mathews to be given "everything he can handle” in the workload department.
May 31: Turner confirms Mathews is the favorite for third-down duties.
June 4: SI’s Peter King reports the Chargers intend to "feed" Mathews "as much as any back in the league.” Turner compares Mathews to Ricky Williams.
June 6: The Chargers’ official website goes on the record as expecting Mathews to be “one of the NFL's top workhorses and a Fantasy Football favorite in 2012."
We could go on and on and on.
So one final time, the Mathews hype was not created and fostered by fantasy experts with nothing better to do.
So what’s gone wrong between the offseason love fest and Mathews’ supposed depth chart demotion?
Circumstance, really. Mathews missed two games with a broken collarbone and then fumbled in Week 3. Fumbles make coaches angry. Angry coaches send messages. Messages get sent in the form of benching young, star players in games coaches believe they can win without them. The Chargers believed they could beat the Chiefs with one arm tied behind their back, therefore Mathews’ snaps were rationed while Battle’s were multiplied.
Then, sensing the opportunity to take the message one step further, the Bolts figured they might as well claim Mathews was behind Battle on the depth chart. Their rationale? Battle “just started last week, so that's why he's there."
Why was Battle there? Because fumbles make coaches angry, angry coaches...you get the idea.
The good news is, fumbles make coaches angry, but they don’t make them crazy. This is a make-or-break year for Turner and GM A.J. Smith in San Diego. Just like they knew they could limit Mathews’ workload and still beat the Chiefs, they also know that won’t be the case against the Saints in the Superdome.
There’s a reason they said all those things about Mathews in the offseason, and why Battle is a 29-year-old player with just 222 career carries. Mathews is a special player, Battle isn’t.
Mathews is going to get his numbers and make fantasy seasons on Sundays, no matter what his coach claims to believe on Wednesdays.
It used to be, Jets coach Rex Ryan was known was for his sophisticated, feared defenses. These days, his calling card has become insisting he hasn’t lost faith in his quarterback and running back.
On Wednesday it was Shonn Greene’s turn to get a vote of confidence for the second straight week. Greene played 14 fewer snaps than Bilal Powell in Sunday’s loss, but the way Ryan sees it, it was all because of the score.
"When you look at it, (Powell) had more snaps because quite honestly he's our third-down back, and when you get behind like we were behind, you're obviously throwing the ball much more," Ryan said. "You almost put that third-down offense out there."
Ryan’s explanation is supported by the fact that Greene did indeed carry the ball seven more times than Powell. However, it’s hurt by the fact that Powell has now played more snaps than Greene two of the past three weeks, and has amassed just 61 fewer yards from scrimmage despite touching the ball 41 fewer times.
The smart money says it’s only a matter of time before Powell hops Greene for good.
The Titans confirmed Jake Locker won’t be under center Sunday, while coach Mike Munchak admitted his second-year quarterback’s status is “uncertain” beyond Week 5.
However, Munchak also added Locker is expected to avoid surgery. Regardless, Locker is very much staring at a multi-week absence, and if he was your handcuff/QB2, it’s time to begin making other plans.
Running Back Quick Slants: Steven Jackson (groin) is questionable for tonight’s game, but is fully expected to start. … Reggie Bush popped up on the injury report with a hip issue, but appears to be over his knee ailment, and is on track for a lead role against the Bengals. … Rashard Mendenhall (knee) got in a full practice, and “believes” he’ll make his 2012 debut against the Eagles. … Matt Forte (ankle) escaped Monday’s win with little more than “normal soreness.” He’s back to being the Bears’ lead back.
Quarterback/Receiver/Tight End Quick Slants: Julio Jones (hand) was a full participant in Falcons practice, and “looked well” catching the ball. … Kenny Britt (ankle) missed Titans practice, and coach Mike Munchak admitted there’s "no doubt he’s going to have to improve the next couple of days to help us on Sunday." … Pierre Garcon (foot) was full-go in Redskins practice, and will be active for Week 5. … Dwayne Bowe and Dexter McCluster are absent from the Week 5 injury report. … As is Michael Vick. … Scott Chandler (head) and Donald Jones (head) are both practicing in full this week. … As is Torrey Smith (ankle). … Christian Ponder was limited with a knee issue, but is expected to be fine for Sunday’s game. … Lance Moore missed practice with a hamstring injury. … Rob Gronkowski (hip) and Julian Edelman both missed Pats practice. Gronk’s Week 5 status is not a concern, Edelman’s is.