The defense has allowed fewer passing yards and touchdowns and a lower completion percentage compared with the first four games last season. It has significantly improved on third down, in the red zone, and during the fourth quarter.
Credit, of course, must be given to much-maligned defensive coordinator Juan Castillo. But the secondary, which struggled through much of 2011, has looked noticeably different under Bowles, who was hired in January.
"He's made a huge difference, not even just with the secondary, but with the entire defense," safety Nate Allen said last week. "He talks to Juan a lot, and he puts his perspective on things. He's a real knowledgeable guy."
The veteran defensive backs said they're better prepared this year. Rookie cornerback Brandon Boykin said that he hasn't yet seen something that he wasn't equipped to see.
"He makes it so easy for you," Boykin said. "He tells you what to expect, what not to expect, and what this person's strengths and weaknesses are. A lot of times you'll probably have to do that on your own or figure out by experience and then next time say, 'OK, he's this fast.' But coach grooms you."
Bowles' cut-ups, the players said, have helped immensely. Bowles and safeties coach Mike Zordich first present the film to the players early in the week. During that meeting, he doles out responsibilities and the appropriate terminology that will be used.
What was said during film study is then transferred to the field, first during a walk-through and then in the afternoon practice as the week progresses. But the work doesn't end there. The "cut-ups" are on each player's iPad so that they can watch anywhere they go.
"The key is you got to watch it yourself because he does it for us and then he goes over it in the walk-through," Asomugha said. "But if you don't watch it yourself repeatedly then it might not stick."
Some plays are universal; others have a specific player in mind. Boykin said that he recalled one cut-up that showed New York Giants receiver Victor Cruz using a double move out of the slot that was designed to go deep. When he recognized the formation during last Sunday's game, Boykin said he did not bite on an Eli Manning pump and the quarterback looked away.
Allen said he deciphered one formation that was planned to free up Cruz deep down the left side with a switch route.
"I was playing the post," Allen said. "I kind of knew what they were going to do over on that side and we knew [Manning] liked going to Cruz most of the time with that type of formation. And sure enough he was going deep and I was leaning there."
Asomugha was covering Cruz, but Allen came over and broke the pass up.
Bowles said that many of the cut-ups focus on "dangerous" formations, plays that could exploit a defensive back's weakness. The Ravens, for instance, run a number of bunch routes on passing downs with multiple variations.
"To the average eye it looks like an impossible feat to stop because they bunch so many times and in so many different ways," Asomugha said. "Todd breaks it down to a point where you see there's 10 different variations, but at the end of the day [the receiver] still always ends up running outside."
Asomugha said that Bowles even has checks that allow the defense to go into a completely different coverage and make defending Baltimore's bunch route, for instance, much easier.
"He could be more of a help, I would think, but that would involve more time, getting the entire defense involved and everybody being on the same page," Asomugha said. "But with just the cornerbacks, he's helped a lot."
Bowles, 48, has coached in the NFL since 2000 with stints at five locales. He was most recently in Miami, where he finished last season as the Dolphins' interim coach. Eagles coach Andy Reid has touted Bowles as a head coaching candidate.
"He's 100 percent cool, calm, no matter what happens in a game," Asomugha said. "I wish he'd be on the sidelines [Bowles watches from the coaches' box] because we don't talk to him as much in the games as guys would like to."
Asomugha said the cornerbacks call upstairs often to get Bowles' bird's eye view of the games. Most of the work, however, has been done, starting with the coach's cut-ups
"They seem to be applying it and it's working," Bowles said. "It's all about reaching your players. If you can reach your players then you got a chance."
The Eagles are 3-1 in great part because of the improvement on defense. Even though the pass rush hasn't been as fierce as last season, the secondary has mostly been successful. That improvement, spearheaded by defensive backs coach Todd Bowles, has been significant. Here's statistical proof, comparing the first four games of last season with this one:
CATEGORY 2011 2012
Passing yards per game 217.8 206.8
Completion percentage 60.5 52.4
Passing touchdowns 10 5
Interceptions 2 6
Passing first downs 52 42
Sacks 15 7
Third-down percentage 48.1 26.9
Red-zone percentage 80.0 33.3
- Jeff McLane
Contact Jeff McLane at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Jeff_McLane.