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Todd Bowles: In What Areas Can He Be an Upgrade?

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Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

When Todd Bowles was hired as Jets head coach, some people noted the similarities Bowles shares with his predecessor, Rex Ryan. They both have a background on the defensive side of the ball. Both run attacking style defenses with multiple fronts and creative looks. Why would the Jets trade one such coach for another?

Building a defensive scheme is but one part of the head coach's job. If the Jets can get something along the lines of Rex Ryan's success building defensive gameplans, I am sure they will be happy. To have success, Bowles will need to be an upgrade in other areas. Here are some of the areas where Rex Ryan struggled. He was ultimately undone by these flaws.

Bowles is a blank slate. He might be better in these areas. He might be the same. He might be worse. We simply do not know.


This is the type of thing that is almost impossible to quantify. It is difficult to judge in most circumstances. I think it is fair to say the Jets went into too many games looking unprepared over the past few seasons. Over the last three seasons, the Jets lost 13 games by three scores or more. What was especially distressing was the frequency with which Ryan would immediately talk about how well he thought his team practiced during the week. It started to feel like the head coach did not understand how to prepare his team.

Much was made about Rex's over the top reaction to Jace Amaro's comments over the offseason, but players were commenting on the issue last season. These things seemed to manifest themselves in all of the wasted timeouts, problems getting playcalls in, and players lining up incorrectly.

The ultimate example had to be the Week 12 game last season against the Bills. The Jets had two weeks to prepare for the game coming off their bye. The Bills could not practice because of all of the snow the Buffalo area got. The Bills won by five touchdowns. No matter the talent level, that is on the preparation of the coaching staff.

A terrible game here or there is inevitable. When they happen too frequently, it is an indication there is a coaching problem.

Player Development

The Jets made numerous poor personnel decisions through the years. The coaching staff can not be let off the hook, though. The job of coaching is to make the players at the facility better and develop talent. The Jets have not been very good at that recently.

This brings me to an important but infrequently discussed failure of the Ryan Era. In the six years, there were really only two top notch position coaches, Bill Callahan and Karl Dunbar. Callahan was a holdover from Eric Mangini's staff and was with the Jets from 2008 through 2011. Dunbar joined the Jets in 2012 and stuck around until 2014.

The head coach has to oversee the big picture. He doesn't have the time to dedicate to constant one on one instruction with all of his players. Much of this falls to the position coaches. When Callahan was around, the Jets built arguably the strongest offensive line in the league. D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Brandon Moore made tremendous strides. Damien Woody learned how to play a new position effectively. Matt Slauson turned from a sixth round pick into an adequate starter. Callahan left after 2011. He went to the Cowboys to become offensive line coach and coordinator. During his tenure with the Cowboys they built...arguably the strongest offensive line in the league. The Jets' situation deteriorated. Austin Howard is about the only success story the Jets have had since.

They got strong in the trenches on the other side of the ball with Dunbar. A defensive composed of entirely young players turned into the biggest strength on the team. Muhammad Wilkerson became a star. Sheldon Richardson was a Rookie of the Year and then a Pro Bowler in two seasons. Damon Harrison went from small school project to elite run stopping nose tackle in the span of a year.

There have not been many tales of successful player development in other places. To be certain, the Jets did not load the roster with talent. You still would expect some success stories. Coaching can only do so much. Callahan could not turn subpar talents like Wayne Hunter and Vladimir Ducasse into players. He was able to have success with the guys mentioned above, though.

The coaching staff Bowles assembled will need to do a better job.

Player Deployment

There is a fine line between being innovative and being dumb. Too frequently, the Jets seemed to gravitate to the latter in recent seasons. You had all of the times Quinton Coples was stuck outside to try and jam receivers. You have Joe McKnight's ill-fated trade to the defense. You had a quarterback, Tim Tebow, as a punt protector, in addition to the other ways Tebow was used.

Bowles showed himself to be unique in Arizona, particularly in 2014 with all of the extra defensive backs he utilized. He leaned heavily on safeties playing essentially linebacker roles. This worked well. Hopefully he will not overthink things with the Jets.

Game Management

Rex Ryan was a brilliant strategist when it came to X's and O's, but he was not particularly managing the game. It started in his fifth game as head coach when he failed to call timeouts to give his offense one last shot as the Dolphins were driving for a winning score. Through the years, the Jets kept making poor strategic decisions. They didn't always hurt the team like kicking the extra point up by 12 in the fourth quarter against Atlanta or running the ball when they could have run out the clock taking the knee against New Orleans in 2013. In a league where seasons can turn on a play or two, these decisions did not maximize the team's chance of victory.

This is going to be new for Bowles. Outside of a three game stint as interim Dolphins head coach in 2011, he hasn't had to make big decisions. He hasn't had to decide when to go for it on fourth down or when to utilize his timeouts. How quick will his learning curve be? Will he embrace modern strategies?  These are things that might make a difference in a game or two each season. Those one or two games might be the difference between making and missing the postseason.

Offensive Production

This might be the biggest one. Above everything what sunk Rex Ryan was his inability to produce even functional offenses.

He tried plenty of different approaches with varying degrees of involvement. There are plenty of theories on how much a defensive-minded head coach should be involved in the offense. I am not sure there is a magic formula. In the case of the last regime, it seemed clear that there was an inability to get results.

I don't think the head coach can totally divorce himself from one side of the ball. It was incredible to hear Christmas Eve 2011 Rex express astonishment that the Jets threw over 50 times. He seemed to express a helplessness to stop it even though as head coach he had the ability. The book written about that season Collision Low Crossers suggested that Rex did not want to be too heavy-handed with his coordinators out of respect for them.

Another issue seemed to be organization philosophy. Six of the seven first round picks used in the Ryan Era were on defense. It would be one thing if the Jets were producing star after star. Then it might have been the Jets were just taking the best player available. Looking at the careers of many of the players selected makes it difficult to argue the Jets truly were taking the best players available to them with many of those picks. On the surface at least it looked like there was a clear bias for defense. A defense-first head coach might have helped foster that culture.

It is also worth mentioning the coaching again. The Jets have had two young quarterbacks in the last six seasons. These quarterbacks were both deeply flawed. At the same time, the NFL has seen quality offensive coaches work around flawed quarterbacks and made them at least look functional. Maybe Mark Sanchez and Geno Smith will never be high end starters, but coaching can at least prevent players like that from becoming total trainwrecks. Sanchez himself at least looked somewhat functional in Philadelphia last season even if he showed he wasn't a particularly great option. Of the five men Ryan hired as either offensive coordinator or quarterbacks coach, only Marty Mornhinweg had anything resembling a decent resume, and he was ultimately unsuccessful.

Bowles has said all of the right things about focusing on both sides of the ball. His choice for offensive coordinator, Chan Gailey, is a bit of a mixed bag in terms of his track record and his attributes. There are some things to like and some things to not like. If Bowles is as good as advertised as a defensive coach, he will not necessarily need a great offense. The Jets will need to be appreciably better on the offensive side of the ball than they have been these last few seasons, however.


I'm not sure we can expect Bowles to be great in all of these areas. Somebody who is an expert across the board is more of a dream coach than a real coach. He will need to be an upgrade in some of them, though. Combined with his abilities on the defensive side of the ball, a coach like that could lead the Jets into a very successful era.