There is no denying that Derwin James is one of the best defensive players in the sport. James is the leader of the Chargers' defense and is one of the most respected players in the league. But that does not make James perfect and his greatness ironically has hurt the Chargers at times.
It is not James' fault, either. It is the team's fault for how they are utilizing one of the best players in the sport. James is still playing at a high individual level but the overall success of the defense is not there. The Chargers have been one of the worst defenses in the sport since Brandon Staley took over. Tweaking how the team uses James may be a key to fixing this issue.
While James is a great player, he is not a perfect player. There are areas of the game that he is worse at than others. Most Chargers fans would agree that James' biggest weakness is his coverage ability. James is by no means bad in coverage, but asking him to do too much in coverage as the glue guy that holds the entire defense together is not working.
Brandon Staley needs to look back at what made Derwin James so special on the 2018 Chargers
The best year of Derwin James' career was his rookie year. That is not how it is supposed to be. Granted, James has dealt with various injuries since then that would typically slow a player down but they are still meant to get better as time goes on.
Despite all of his faults, Gus Bradley knew how to utilize James. Bradley still allowed James to play in coverage and line up at safety or in the slot but he also utilized him where he is best: in the box and on the defensive line. According to Pro Football Focus, James played 418 snaps in the box and 205 snaps on the defensive line in 2018. Last season, James played only 330 snaps in the box and only 63 snaps on the defensive line.
James is a playmaker with an extremely high football IQ that is due for multiple highlights a game. But there seems to be an over-reliance, almost an over-confidence, in what James can do. James cannot single-handedly fix every issue on the Chargers' defense. Yet when he is on the field, the coaching staff displays a sense of arrogance that James will indeed fix everything.
Nothing is more evident of this than the Chargers' Week 1 loss to the Dolphins. While Miami certainly made adjustments, the Chargers went away from everything that worked last season when they shut down Miami's offense. Instead, they relied on playing man coverage one-on-one against the most explosive set of weapons in the league.
There seemed to be this arrogant confidence from the Chargers coaching staff that James, J.C. Jackson and Joey Bosa being back would just fix the issues. That the team did not have to be creative and scheme against Miami. That talent would just win out. What the coaching staff seemed to forget is just how talented Miami's offense is.
The Chargers' best games last season on defense were games that James did not play. That is not a knock on James, but an indication that too much might be falling on his plate. When James is not out there it forces Staley to game plan and make sure that the defense is operating as a cohesive unit. When he is on the field it seems like the Chargers expect James to do everything.
So what is the solution? More snaps in the box and near the line of scrimmage might be the best route moving forward. Kenneth Murray is a legitimate problem for this Chargers team and the Bolts have depth at the safety position. No fan is going to be against Staley at least trying James almost as a full-time linebacker with Alohi Gilman and JT Woods at the two safety positions.
Regardless, the Chargers need to put Derwin James in more positions to be successful. For three years it has felt like the coaching staff is intentionally putting the players in situations that are going to eat them alive. That is not the job of coaching.