Arizona Defense Going Bowles Out
By Joe Darrah
If Arizona defensive coordinator Todd Bowles cares anything at all about recent history, or is a believer of karma, he might be looking over his shoulder as the Cardinals prepare to host Seattle Thursday night.
Much like the 3-3 Philadelphia Eagles that Bowels inherited as a defensive coordinator last season, the 3-3 Redbirds bear some similarities, even if they are of a different feather. It's been the defense keeping this team in contention, while the offense doesn’t live up to expectations and a veteran quarterback continues a habit of turnovers.
And there’s been no lack of drama since Bowles' tenure began in the desert.
When coach Bruce Arians dismissed former defensive coordinator Ray Horton, curiosity and controversy hung in the balance. Aside from the surprise of being jettisoned unexpectedly after building a reputable defense, Horton — a one-time colleague of Arians on a Steelers coaching staff that defeated the Cards in Super Bowl XLVIII — was reportedly vocally angry about the organization’s refusal to offer him the vacant head-coaching position in the first place. With that news made public, Arians was not shy in explaining his rationale for not retaining the veteran coach. He explained soon after his hiring that there was no room for blurred lines or power struggles with the ushering in of his new regime.
Fair enough. However, the decision to recruit a rather novice coordinator in Bowles certainly raised eyebrows. Bowles, who once played under Arians at Temple University, replaced the fired Philly “fall guy” Juan Castillo in mid-October last year when Castillo was blindsided by Andy Reid. The Birds would go on to lose their next six games (five of which saw the defense allow more than 30 points after never allowing more than 26 through the first six) and didn’t do much to flex their muscles defensively as they finished 15th in yards allowed per contest — three spots below the Cardinals.
After six games in 2013, Bowles hasn’t really improved a defense that ranks 15th in yards allowed per game this season (19th in passing). True, the Cardinals rank fifth in the league in rushing yards allowed per game, but that may be more of a reflection of the relative ease in which teams are moving the ball through the air on a Bowles defense. To be fair, quarterback Carson Palmer clearly hasn’t held up his end of the bargain with his 11 interceptions, the most in the league behind Eli Manning. Palmer provided little reprieve to the defense in last Sunday’s loss to the 49ers when he chucked two more picks. He also took a second-quarter sack for a safety during a game that the Cardinals were controlling and leading at that point. That miscue opened the gate for a 61-yard Colin Kaepernick-to-Vernon Davis touchdown pass that gave San Fran a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.
With the Seahawks waiting in the wings, the end of the first true litmus test for Bowles and his unit could also spell the end of any realistic playoff hopes Arizona holds. Though justifiably celebrated for his impressive career to date as a young quarterback in the NFL, Seattle’s Russell Wilson will be bringing in the 24th-ranked passing offense, a far cry from the team’s second-ranked rushing offense. If Bowles’ run defense is exposed by Marshawn Lynch, where would that leave him? A loss could pit the team in a three-game hole in the division with three division losses. The job-watch notice is officially on in the desert.