LA Chargers News

Da Bolts? Which stellar defensive unit the Chargers look to resemble

Nick Spanola
Los Angeles Chargers v Denver Broncos
Los Angeles Chargers v Denver Broncos / Justin Edmonds/GettyImages
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Khalil Mack, Joey Bosa, Derwin James, J.C. Jackson, Sebastian Joseph-Day...how about that for your security blanket? Brandon Staley should be amped about the Chargers defense, especially with the additions of Russell Wilson and Davante Adams to an already loaded AFC West.

Plenty of name-value exists amongst Chargers personnel, but the way they come together under Staley's framework has a chance for something special. It's hard to ignore connections with the 2018 Chicago Bears, here's why that's a great sign:

The Bears had arguably the best defense this decade

Led by Vic Fangio at DC and (surprise) Brandon Staley at OLB Coach, their 92.8 overall PFF defensive grade is still the highest in a season since 2018. Chicago owned the NFL's best coverage (95.7) and run defense (92.5) grades that year as well.

Regardless if their players or coaching/scheme deserved most of the credit, they were collectively as impactful of a unit as you'll find in today's league.

There are familiar faces from the Bears on the LA Chargers right now

Staley got some of his band back together, starting with Khalil Mack in March's blockbuster deal with the Bears. As an elite pass rusher, Mack moves the needle far more for a team envisioning double-digit wins and a deep playoff run like the Chargers, rather than part of a rebuilding organization like Chicago.

Another member in this "reunion" is slot corner Bryce Callahan, who inked a one-year deal with the Bolts in May. The Broncos signed Callahan to a three-year contract in 2019, appearing in 21 games throughout his tenure. Prior to Denver, Callahan played a vital role in the Bears' secondary.

Among all CBs with 150+ slot coverage snaps in 2018, Callahan allowed an NFL-best 0.69 yards/snap (data via PFF).

Callahan may fill Chris Harris Jr.'s shoes in coverage seamlessly (still on the market). A key factor that allowed him to ball hawk in Chicago were the "anchors" surrounding him. Lucky for Callahan and Bolts fans, similar pieces can be found close to home.

The LA Chargers foundation is similar to that of the Bears

Staley's defensive blueprint deploys a light box in favor of a numbers advantage in the secondary (NFL = passing league). Signing lockdown corner J.C. Jackson into the scheme enhances abilities of a swiss army knife like Derwin James. This was a major component of Chicago’s identity.

In 2018, Kyle Fuller had the NFL's third-best PFF man coverage grade among corners with 100+ snaps (86.2). His 12 pass breakups were also good for third-most at his position.

Fuller's all-pro campaign that season was matched by teammate Eddie Jackson, who led every NFL safety in pass breakups (8), forced incompletions (8), and PFF coverage grade (94.7).

In 2021, J.C. Jackson topped all NFL CBs with an 89.0 PFF man coverage grade. And, like Fuller, Jackson recorded a total of 12 pass breakups.

MUST-READ: Brandon Staley does not mince words about poor special teams

Newly paid Derwin James patrolling centerfield, along with J.C. Jackson disrupting big-name wideouts is a goal for the 2022 season. Given Jackson's recent ankle injury, however, this tandem's debut will, unfortunately, have to wait. We've seen a duo like Kyle Fuller/Eddie Jackson dominate in a Staley(ish) secondary before, so it's fair to be optimistic about the Bolts' chances once J.C. Jackson heals up.

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