In an earlier post, we discussed Dan Quinn's defense. It received such a positive reception that I wanted to look at Todd Bowles' defense, one of the other candidates the New York Jets are heavily considering for the open head coaching position.
Unlike Quinn, Bowles' defense is much harder to nail down. Quinn's defense is relatively straightforward. Although there are variations, there aren't many and they are easy to identify. That isn't the case with Bowles. To begin with, it's unclear what he would bring over to the Jets. He has operated multiple schemes, both 3-4 and 4-3, and is willing to change schemes completely to fit his personnel. Despite losing Karlos Dansby to free agency, Daryl Washington to a season-long drug suspension, Darnell Dockett to an ACL tear, John Abraham to IR, Tyrann Mathieu for a few weeks, etc., Bowles managed to have the fifth best defense by points allowed. You can compare this to the Jets, who ranked twenty-fourth.
That said, Bowles' defense in Arizona most closely resembles none other than the organized chaos of Rex Ryan. But not the Rex Ryan that we saw the past few years; the Rex Ryan that went to the AFC Championship in 2009 and 2010.
It's aggressive. As Greg Cosell stated, "Now, you could argue that they don't have a pure pass-rusher, but this is where Bowles comes in. This team blitzes more than any team in the NFL, and they blitz more on first down than any team in the NFL, and they're creative with their pressures. They're also very good with disguise."
It adapts to the opponent. When the Cardinals played the Dallas Cowboys, Bowles switched from a predominately 3-4 scheme to a 4-3, simply because it was a better matchup. They won that game 28-17, and ended DeMarco Murray's streak of 100-yard games.
It adapts to the players. To quote Dockett, "This defense is based on guys and what their ability allows them to be good at. What they were drafted for." When Bowles found that he didn't have an elite pass rusher, he balanced it out by adding more safeties... sometimes up to four on the field on any given down. This allowed him to cover athletic tight ends for longer, and had the added benefit of confusing offenses. Bowles doesn't force a round peg into a square hole... he finds another solution.
Unlike Quinn, I can't show you one formation to give you an almost complete understanding of Bowles' defense. It's far too complex and mutates too often to simplify into one article. Instead, what I can do is give you several examples of the type of scheme you'll see under Bowles.
So, this is a good play to show you that not is all it seems from where the players are initially lining up. Here, you have a nickel package. Three down linemen, three linebackers, and five defensive backs. There's an OLB standing up at the top of the formation, and he's going to rush the passer, looping around the right tackle. You have a three-tech defensive end stunting into the A gap, and another linebacker looping down and presumably past the left tackle, who is engaged with the six-tech defensive end. Meanwhile, in the secondary, you have mixed coverage. The outside corners are in man, and you have two safeties, the extra defensive back, and a linebacker in zone.
As I mentioned, this may remind you of Rex Ryan. It's a lot of mixed coverage with a core of man coverage, blitzes from unexpected places, and disguised scheming.
This is the game I mentioned where they changed their scheme completely. Bowles uses a decent amount of 4-3 looks, but this game was an almost wholesale change. In this play, only one lineman actually goes where they're showing.
To avoid some confusion in this play, anyone that is in man coverage has a yellow line. On this play, you have some over the top safety help, and an overload blitz on the weak side. It results in a five-yard sack.
I wish I could give you a simple breakdown of everything Bowles will do, but the fact that I cannot gives you an idea of what kind of defense he runs. It's multiple and confusing as hell. It changes based on what his players can and can't do. On a Jets team that has struggled with players being forced into roles they can't handle, that may be what's needed going forward.