Reflections On The Chargers Defensive Back Performances

When it concerns tackling and coverage, the Chargers defensive backfield is a mixed bag. A deep dive into each and every defensive back's performance.

Chargers Safety Derwin James intercepts pass Photo Credit: Mike Nowak | Los Angeles Chargers
Chargers Safety Derwin James intercepts pass Photo Credit: Mike Nowak | Los Angeles Chargers

Week 13 brought another LA Chargers matchup against the Raiders and it was a heartbreaker. The Chargers just couldn’t rally to come back and tie up the game. They fell to another late-season ”L” against the Raiders, just like last year. Except for this year, this loss means they’re further and further away from playoff contention.

For the team overall, the receiver coverage wasn’t bad. PFF gave the team a grade of 75.5. They held Derek Carr to the lowest completion percentage of the season with just 53.3 percent. That’s nine percent lower than his season average. But he was still able to rack up 250 yards passing. The reason for that is, this matchup also marked the lowest tackling grade of the entire season at 35.2 missing 12 tackles. The defensive backs missed 6 tackles on the season they account for 41 percent of the total missed tackles.

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Interestingly, the Chargers have been lackluster tacklers all season. All those broken tackles and missed tackles have contributed to less-than-stellar run defense and cost the Chargers a win in several games. According to PFF, the Chargers have already missed 117 tackles. In the whole of last season, they only had 150. No team tackling grade for any game has been above the 60s.

In addition to this matchup, their last game against the Raiders marked the second-worst team tackling grade of the season so far at 37. In that game, the DBs were to blame for seven of the team’s 11 missed tackles.

With all the concerns missed tackles and bad coverage bring it’s a good time to take a dive into how the Chargers defensive backfield has played, against the Raiders and for the entire season.

*As a note, JT Woods, Ja’Sir Taylor, and Deane Leonard have been omitted from this article as they were each included in my rookie half-season breakdown during the bye week. Alohi Gilman’s Raider performance is also not included as he only played six total snaps during that game.

The Chargers Defensive Back Performances

Nasir Adderley’s Game Performance Against The Raiders

Nasir Adderley’s tackling grade for this game was the lowest it’s been this whole season at 28.8, while his receiver coverage grade was 72.5 and his run defense grade was 31. According to Pro-Football-Reference he only had six combined tackles (solo and assisted) and he had three missed tackles, which was the most of any game he’s played this season. Adderley stopped Foster Moreau during the first quarter and teamed up with other defenders to stop Josh Jacobs from making significant gains, but overall didn’t really have significant contributions during this game.

Hopefully, this is just another slight blip on the radar for him and he’ll be on point the next game.

Reflections on Adderley’s Season-Wide Performance So Far

In terms of the stats, Adderley’s average tackling grade this season is higher than it was last season at 68.4 this year while his grade last year was 52.7. His receiver coverage grade is a smidge higher at 64.5 when last year it was 62.9. He’s only missed six tackles overall this season. His tackle number is on the lower side. He’s only made 48 combined tackles (solo and assisted together) according to Pro-Football-Reference. He had 99 last year, but he’s definitely a player that has grown more than regressed this season.

Despite being benched during Week 5, Adderley has had a solid season for the Chargers. One of his best games was Week 7 against the Seahawks, where I distinctly wrote in my notes that “Adderley is everywhere.” He made a great low tackle on Colby Parkinson during the second quarter when he was on a run. Adderley and Drue Tranquill were on par for the most combined tackles of that matchup at seven.

He had one interception called back because of a penalty against the Chiefs in Week 2, and had one that counted against Houston in week four during the first quarter. Adderley hasn’t been perfect, as he was one of the people during that Houston game who couldn’t get a hold of Dameon Pierce. Pierce ran for a 75-yard touchdown during the second quarter.

The Chargers-Texans game marked Adderley’s worst coverage grade of the season at 50.3. His run defense grade has definitely declined since last year. It was 70.7 last year and this year it’s 50. But for the most part, the backfield looks a little more secure when he’s in it. I’ve been singing his praises since the summer, especially with the way he stepped up when Derwin James was holding out for his contract.

Asante Samuel Jr.’s Game Performance Against The Raiders

Asante Samuel struggled in this Raiders matchup, especially when paired against Davante Adams. Out of the four receiving targets that Adams had when covered by Samuel, he had four first downs, 95 receiving yards, and one touchdown. This game marked Samuel’s worst receiver coverage grade of the whole season at 34.5. His tackling grade was 61.4 and his run defense grade was 38.6. Samuel had a point where he was one-on-one with Adams and proceeded to slip and fell while in pursuit and Adams made it to the 40-yard line before being brought down by Bryce Callahan.

And then in the third quarter, Samuel was all over Adams again in the end zone and Adams still managed to make a spectacular catch for the touchdown. There was also a point in the second quarter where Jacobs just slips through the defensive line running in for a touchdown, and Samuel can be seen as one of the last people pursuing him as he guns it into the end zone. Samuel’s coverage grade was so good last week and it’s hard to see it fall so far this week.

Reflections On Samuel’s Season-Wide Performance So Far

Samuel’s performance for the most part has been on point this year. His tackling grade has definitely improved from last year when it was 35.5 to this year at 51. His combined tackles at 42 are only one behind what he had last year at 43. He’s also missed fewer tackles so far this season, given that he missed 11 last year and has only missed six this year. His receiver coverage grade is slightly higher this year. The previous season his grade was 57.4 and this year it’s risen to 57.8. His run defense grade hasn’t declined that much as it was 49.7 in 2021 and this year it’s 43.

He had some nice pressure on A.J. Green during last week’s game. He also helped Kenneth Murray have his first career interception when he tipped the ball during the Chargers-Seahawks game as Tyler Lockett was trying to make the catch and Murray grabbed it. The week two game against the Chiefs showed a bit of his receiver coverage as he had a great pass breakup on Jody Fortson. Samuel is one of those players like Derwin James that can be everywhere. He’s definitely improved over his first year and it’s going to be interesting to see him develop even more in the league.

Bryce Callahan‘s Game Performance Against The Raiders

Bryce Callahan had a good game overall. His tackling grade was one of the best he’s had of the season at 81.4. His coverage grade was 60.4 and his run defense grade was 72.2. He had a great interception during the first quarter of the game and ran the ball in for a touchdown, marking his third touchdown of the season.

He had slight issues covering Adams, after the flee flicker between Jacobs and Derek Carr, Callahan was the last one seen pursuing Adams as he ran into the end zone. He did his best to contend against Hollins and Adams and also helped to make some tackles on Jacobs. Callahan has had sold performances this season and though this game wasn’t perfect, it was an all-around good performance.

Reflections on Callahan’s Season-Wide Performance So Far

Callahan’s tackling grade was higher when he was with Denver at 49.7 and so far his tackling grade with the Chargers this season has been 46.2. His actual combined tackles are higher this year with 40 as opposed to the 29 combined ones he had in Denver, but he has missed more tackles this year. He has missed 10 and only missed six the previous year. This has been the most tackles he’s missed in all the seasons he’s played in the league. And in terms of receiver coverage grades, in 2021 when he was with Denver last year his grade was 67.9, and this year it’s 65.4.

Callahan has been a reliable coverage unit this year. He did struggle a little against James Connor and Kyler Murray last week but otherwise is good at those one-to-one matchups. And actually, his run defense grade has gone up this year from 28.3 in 2021 to 55.3. He’s also managed an interception during each game he’s played against the Raiders this year. He went head-to-head with Deebo Samuel and Christian McCaffrey during the 49ers game. Though he was less successful in terms of coverage during that game, it’s clear he doesn’t back down from a challenge.

He’s not only good with receiver coverage, but he’s also not afraid to go up against quarterbacks and got some pressure on Patrick Mahomes during Week 12 and had two hurries during that matchup, which PFF defines as “when the passer is hurried by the defender.”

During one of Brandon Staley’s press conferences he said “Bryce, he has a lot of experience. He can do all the jobs at a premium level. He can cover man-to-man. He has great zone instincts. He can cover different types of players because he has a big engine for a nickel. There are some nickels that are speed deficient that just have quickness, he has both. He has quickness. He has deep speed. He can play outside corner. He has a strong lower (body).”

Callahan was a great addition to this team this year and is an integral part of the Chargers coverage and tackling.

Reflections on Alohi Gilman’s Season-Wide Performance So Far

Alohi Gilman has improved on the tackling front. His tackling grade last year was 49.4 while this year it’s 72.6. He’s played fewer snaps this year than last but he’s almost reached his previous year’s tackle number which was 42 combined tackles. This year he has 33. He’s only missed three tackles so far this year when he missed eight last year. His receiver coverage grade has gotten slightly worse. Last year was 59.6 and this year is 56.1, but that could just be because of the limited playing time he’s had. And his run defense grade has declined slightly this year as it was 55 last season and is now 47.4.

He replaced Adderley a lot during the Charges game against Arizona last week and did help to tackle Connor who got loose and picked up 20 yards at the start of the third quarter. He also had the best overall defense grade against the 49ers and tackled McCaffrey and Brandon Aiyuk. One of which prevented Aiyuk from scoring a touchdown.

He had a fumble recovery during Week 11 against the Chiefs and his first interception of the season during Brown’s game in Week 5. He’s had quite a bit of production for the limited time he’s been on the field for the Chargers and definitely has firmly planted himself in that third safety spot.

Michael Davis’ Game Performance Against The Raiders

Michael Davis had a pretty solid game against the Raiders. His tackling grade was 78.1 and his receiver coverage grade was 80.5, which is his highest of the entire season. His run defense grade was 66.4. Davis was paired with Adams throughout and did a great job matching up with him. Out of the six targets Adams had when Davis was in coverage, Davis kept him to 22 receiving yards with only two first downs.

Davis had a beautiful pass breakup too during the start of the fourth quarter where Adams jumped up to catch the ball in the end zone and Davis just reaches in and tips the ball out of Adams’ hands. It was so satisfying to watch. Davis is definitely miles ahead of where he was last season and the fact that he can go head-to-head with such powerful receivers like Adams is such a testament to that.

Reflections on Davis’ Season-Wide Performance So Far

Davis has been starting here and there throughout the season, especially in the last few weeks amidst some of the injuries that have plagued the Chargers. His tackling grade has improved from last year. This season it’s 71.4 whereas last year it was 58. His receiver coverage grade has also improved to 63.7 while it was only 54.4 last year. He’s very close to his combined tackle number from last year, which was 54 as he’s currently at 46. So far he’s only had four missed tackles this year when he had eight last year. And his run defense grade has improved from 49.4 last year to 62.6 this year.

He was electric during the Cardinals game last week and had a nice hit on Robbie Anderson during the second quarter. When he was positioned on the defensive line, he came up with a great sack on Kyler Murray. And he almost picked off the ball from Murray on the last drive of the game.

Whenever he’s in, Davis always makes an impact and seems to shine. Especially with his one-on-one skills. He did well in the Broncos game as well when he replaced J.C. Jackson and had great coverage on Courtland Sutton with a pass breakup. Though Davis may not be the first option in the lineup, he’s a good option.

Derwin James’ Game Performance Against The Raiders

Derwin James’ tackling grade was pretty low this game at 56.3. His receiver coverage grade was 66.2 while his run defense grade was 72.6. He only missed one tackle during this game. He helped out with a few tackles on Jacobs but I expected him to be more impactful in stopping Adams and pressuring Carr than he was. I lost him in this game and that’s not a usual occurrence when he’s on the field.

Reflections on James’ Season-Wide Performance So Far

I’ve talked a lot about James throughout most of my Chargers articles this year. I think it’s clear I’m always ‘Team James’ and that he’s always performing up to expectations for the Chargers. His tackling grade has been a little lower this year than last. Last year it was 79.8 while this year it’s 67. He had 106 combined tackles this year, while last year he had 118 and has had 13 missed tackles so far this year when last year he had 12. His coverage grade is a little less than it was last year, which was 76.6, and this year it’s 68.4.

The great thing about James though is that when he’s lacking in one area, he makes up for it in another. His pass rush grade is higher this year at 91.1 while last year it was 86.2. His sack number this season is already tied with the highest sack number of his career, which was four in 2018. So here’s hoping we see a few others by season end so he can surpass that number. His run defense grade is almost the same as last year. In 2021 it was 76.5 and this year it’s 76.9.

James has literally been everywhere trying to piece this defense together. He was all over Travis Kelce during the two Chargers matchups with the Chiefs, including that body slam play from Week 2, though unfortunately, he had a holding penalty on Kelce during Week 11, and shortly after that he couldn’t stop Kelce from running into the end zone for the game-winning touchdown. He had a great sack on Mahomes in that game.

James is definitely someone that players are scared of, especially quarterbacks, and that was on display during the 49ers game when Jimmy Garoppolo had a delay of game and didn’t pass the ball when under pressure from James.

You can see the toll that all this defensive responsibility takes on James, especially during the Broncos game where it seemed like James had to always get to the tackle when other Chargers, like Jackson, couldn’t. Chargers head coach, Brandon Staley talked about how James is doing the job of six players and that it’s a huge tax understanding what to do and how to do it with the six other roles he’s taken on, but he knows he’s a “LeBron James type player where he can just do everything.” And he’s right because, without him, I’m not sure how far the Chargers would’ve gotten this season.

Reflections on JC Jackson’s Season-Wide Performance

JC Jackson is currently out for the season after week seven’s game against the Seahawks. His tackling grade for the season ended at 38.8 when with New England last year it was 43.7. His receiver coverage grade was quite low at 28.1 when last year it was 80.3. He ended his first Chargers season with 15 combined tackles when he had 58 last year.

Jackson had quite a tumultuous season. He was benched in week six for poor performance and then in Week 7, he looked like he was turning things around, and got hurt. And well, the benching was called for. He did let Greg Dulcich get a touchdown while he ran over to try to get in coverage and was too late. Jackson’s run defense grade is one of the worst of the starting lineup at 60.2.

He also had a missed tackle on Jordan Akins during Week 4 against the Texans, and it took Samuel grabbing Akins’ ankle to trip him up as he got the first down. The Chiefs game during Week 2 was just more evidence that he couldn’t contend against physical, fast receivers like Kelce and Justin Watson.

He missed Kelce on a tackle in the second quarter. Watson beat Jackson while he was in coverage for a touchdown in the third quarter. Since he had that surgery for his ankle during the summer, he just hadn’t been the same, and that’s unfortunate for someone who was given a five-year, $82.5 million contract. I’m hoping that after his injury, he’s able to come back and be the player the Chargers expected to get from New England.

Chargers Safety Derwin James intercepts pass Photo Credit: Mike Nowak | Los Angeles Chargers
Chargers Safety Derwin James intercepts pass Photo Credit: Mike Nowak | Los Angeles Chargers