J.C. Jackson not living up to his $82-million contract for Chargers defense
Part of the problem, Jackson explained, is that he should be pressing, as in playing a tighter, more aggressive style at the line of scrimmage.
“I’m a bump-and-run corner, a press corner,” Jackson said. “That’s my game. I need to stick to my game.”
The Chargers signed Jackson in March to a five-year deal guaranteeing him $40 million and potentially worth more than double that amount. He cashed in financially after blossoming as an undrafted free agent in New England.
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Jackson was acquired to help ignite a defense that too often went flat last year. The Chargers needed more game-changers, more playmakers who could steal footballs and momentum.
In the previous four seasons, no one in the NFL had more interceptions than Jackson’s 25. He made his first Pro Bowl last year after leading the league with 23 passes defensed.
But in three games with his new team, Jackson has struggled to produce. He has yet to intercept a pass and has been credited with just a single breakup.
Jackson missed the Chargers’ season opener and then their Week 3 matchup while dealing with the lingering effects of an August surgical procedure on his right ankle. Both he and coach Brandon Staley said the time off has been a factor in his slow start, but Jackson insisted he is healthy.
“The ankle thing has nothing to do with it,” he said. “It’s more about technique and fundamentals. It’s still a learning process with the defense and everything else. I’m not blaming my ankle. I’m 100% healthy.”
Said Staley: “We brought him here to do what he does best. We’re not trying to change him, that’s for sure. It’s just him getting out there with his teammates, getting in rhythm and playing his game.”
His game, Jackson assured, will be on display soon, the cornerback suggesting that a first-strike approach will lead to increased production. As a starter, he never has played more zone than he has this season, according to Next Gen Stats.
Last weekend in Cleveland, Jackson was beaten in the first quarter for an 11-yard touchdown in man-to-man coverage by Amari Cooper. When the ball was snapped, Jackson was nearly 10 yards off the line of scrimmage.
He ended up surrendering five receptions for 58 yards against the Browns as they targeted him a team-high nine times, according to Pro Football Focus.
Years before standout NFL cornerback J.C. Jackson signed with the Chargers, his life in a small Florida town was nearly derailed by armed robbery charges.
But Chargers defensive coordinator Renaldo Hill said Jackson’s performance improved after halftime, after the coaches “challenged him” and made adjustments.
“The second half, we felt like that story was a little bit different,” Hill said. “He got out there in press and challenged a little bit more, and it looked a whole lot better. That is what we have to continue to do. ... He’s going to mix it up. But we know that his strong suit is getting up there and pressing.”
Jackson has been targeted 20 times this season while allowing 15 receptions for 245 yards and two touchdowns, according to PFF. He yielded 108 of those yards in Week 4 at Houston.
During his four years with the Patriots, Jackson never finished with a PFF coverage grade below 70. So far for the Chargers, he has graded out at less than half that number: 32.1.
“Nobody knows my confidence more than me,” Jackson said. “Nobody’s got higher standards than myself. I’m gonna get back to where I should be soon. This is nothing I can’t handle.”
To follow Jackson on Twitter, search for “MR_INT,” a reference to the ball-thieving ways that marked his time in New England. During a stretch in 2020, he had interceptions in five consecutive games.
But, dating to his final appearance with the Patriots, he has gone four in a row without a pickoff, matching the longest such streak of his career in games he has started.
The Chargers had the NFL’s worst run attack through Week 4 but showed signs of improvement, and in Week 4 Austin Ekeler ran for a career-high 173 yards against a very good Cleveland defense.
Jackson’s most recent interception came Jan. 2 against Trevor Lawrence on a day when the Jacksonville quarterback was picked off three times.
“Each week, I feel like J.C.’s growing,” safety Derwin James Jr. said. “He’s gonna keep improving. Eventually, he’s gonna play the way we know he can play. We all know what type of player J.C. is.”
Jackson and James have lockers next to each other in the Chargers’ Costa Mesa training facility. Last week while Jackson was talking to reporters, James leaned in and said, “I can’t wait till you get your first pick.”
Responded Jackson: “That’s what they waitin’ for. The world waitin’ on that.”
Reminded that the world includes the Chargers and their fans, Jackson smiled.
“Once I start making plays, y’all are going to see,” he said. “Then we’re going to see what they got to say then. ... It’s just a matter of time.”
The Chargers likely will be without Keenan Allen (hamstring) on Monday night against Denver after the wide receiver was limited in practice all week. He was listed as doubtful. ... Trey Pipkins III (knee) was listed as questionable, but Staley indicated he expects the right tackle to play. ... Kicker Dustin Hopkins (quadriceps) is set to return after missing last week’s game. ... Center Corey Linsley also is expected to play after being held out of practice Saturday because of an illness.
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