Mike Pettine must feel for Todd Bowles. Each man is a superb defensive coach, adept at creating pressure out of nothing like a skilled illusionist, yet neither appear to be suited to run NFL programs. Bowles’ time as head coach in New York will likely finish with a win percentage under .400 and by January will, like Pettine, be a former Jets coach.
Calls for Pettine to remain at his post in Green Bay as defensive coordinator ring throughout Cheesehead Nation, but if the team’s new head coach hire wants a fresh start, Bowles could be the most appealing defensive coordinator candidate on the market.
Bowles took over Eagles passing defense in 2012 after the team fired former offensive line coach Juan Castillo, who had been promoted by Andy Reid in one of the strangest coaching moves of the last decade. When Philly fired Reid after that season, Bowles left for Arizona, where he schemed the Cardinals defense into one of the league’s best.
Without any edge rushers to speak of (sound familiar?) Bowles created a defense around scheming free rushers, much like Pettine, and was the most effective man in football at doing so. In 2013, Bowles’ first season as DC, the Cardinals finished second in DVOA, fifth against the pass and first against the run.
Injuries crippled the Cardinals in 2014 when just two defensive starters played all 16 games, but Bowles kept them in the top-10 in defense by DVOA, launching him to national prominence and ultimately landing Bowles the Jets’ head coaching job in 2015. The former NFL defensive back hit the grounding running, leading New York to one of the league’s best defenses, top-10 overall, against the pass and rush, with the league’s top rush defense by DVOA.
Management’s incompetence in putting quality players on the field handcuffed Bowles’ ability not only to field a quality defense, but a competitive team overall since that first season. The Gang Green struggles shouldn’t be laid at the feet of Bowles, who hasn’t been given much to work with over the course of his tenure with the Jets, but it’s become clear Bowles hasn’t been able to translate his defensive acumen to head coaching ability. Perhaps the similarities between Bowles and Pettine merge once again; each may be better suited as defensive coaches than head coaches.
From a fit standpoint, Bowles runs a 3-4 front with an aggressive blitz-centric approach, similar to Pettine’s and easing a potential transition. Though some of the nomenclature has lost its meaning of the years with teams running less and less base personnel, the types of defensive linemen and pass rushers teams look for in different schemes can vary significantly. In this case, there wouldn’t be a concern over not having the right kind of personnel to run his stuff.
None of this is to say Bowles would be a preferable option to Pettine. Continuity remains paramount in the NFL at a time the league has done everything in its power to outlaw playing defense. Communication, scheme awareness and understanding are the few tools defensive players have to combat the ridiculous numbers offenses put up each week.
An offensive-minded coach like Lincoln Riley or Eric Bieniemy may walk into Green Bay without a strong feeling as to who should be defensive coordinator, opening the door for Pettine to remain in charge. The same is true for Josh McDaniels, though to a lesser extent and it’s worth noting that Matt Eberflus, the man he tabbed in Indianapolis as his DC before bailing on the Colts, has done an excellent job in Indy with limited talent.
But should Pettine not be seen as an ideal fit for whomever Mark Murphy and Brian Gutekunst decide to bring in, Bowles should be considered one of the few other elite defensive coaches ready to fill the void.