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Derwin James: Chargers' defense 'a bunch of grown men coming together' to finally improve in 2023

The Los Angeles Chargers have been waiting for the defense to turn the corner for years, particularly struggling the past two seasons under head coach Brandon Staley.

On paper, it's a good group that boasts the likes of Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack up front, Derwin James on the back end and newly acquired linebacker Eric Kendricks in the middle.

James sees a defense that will finally put it together for a full season. 

"A bunch of grown men coming together," James said, via the Los Angeles Times. "We're not kids. We're not little boys. When a bunch of grown men make up their minds and they're tired of something, that's when things change."

The Chargers allowed 22.6 points per game in 2022, 21st in the NFL -- down from 27.0 (T-29th) in 2021. L.A. gave up a ghastly 5.9 yards per play last season, 29th in the league. The run game was particularly woeful, allowing 5.4 rush yards per play (30th).

The stats are stunningly bad for a group with such star power. Last offseason's addition of cornerback J.C. Jackson was supposed to round out the group. Instead, he struggled and ultimately saw his season end early due to a knee injury. Bosa missed 12 games last season due to injury, as well.

Adding Kendricks in the middle should help some in the run game, but the entire D needs to take a step forward in Staley's third season.

"We definitely want to be that dominating group that we all know we can be," James said. "We've got the pieces to do it. We've got the guys to change that narrative."

Under Staley, the play of the Chargers' defense has defined their win-loss record. Los Angeles is 3-13 when allowing 25-plus points and 16-2 when allowing fewer than 25 points since 2021 (third-best such winning percentage during that span, behind only Kansas City and Dallas).

Last year's disastrous playoff collapse in Jacksonville underscored the Chargers' Jekyll-and-Hyde defense. On the first seven drives, they allowed 0 points and 61 total yards and had four takeaways. On the final five drives, they gave up 31 points and 329 total yards with zero turnovers.

This year, the Chargers believe everything will finally coalesce.

"I really feel we're way more connected this year, the whole defensive unit," defensive lineman Sebastian Joseph-Day said. "That's what we needed. We needed time to jell with one another."

If everything doesn't jell in L.A., Staley could be looking for a new job in 2024.

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