Davis, Bowles, find success in new places

The Cardinals' Todd Bowles inherited a defense that was already stout, but he has tweaked the 3-4 scheme.
The Cardinals' Todd Bowles inherited a defense that was already stout, but he has tweaked the 3-4 scheme. (PATRICK BREEN / The Arizona Republic)
Posted: December 01, 2013

It makes for a tidy story, the second chances Bill Davis and Todd Bowles have taken advantage of as defensive coordinators. But both have been around the block enough to know they're only a five-game finish away from looking for another job.

"I've been around the NFL long enough that you never assume security or the opposite," Davis said earlier this week as the Eagles prepared for Sunday's game against the Cardinals. "It's such a slippery slope. You can climb and fall equally fast."

Even within the short span of this season, Davis has already been deemed a failure and success. But a slow September start, that he cautioned was likely, has given way to a seven-game stretch in which his defense hasn't allowed more than 21 points in a game.

Bowles' Cardinals unit, on the other hand, has been more consistent. It has had hiccups, but Bowles has managed to correct the mistakes. After all, he's working with a scheme of his creation.

Last season, Bowles didn't have the same luxury. Hired by the Eagles as defensive backs coach, he was promoted to coordinator after Juan Castillo was fired six games into the season. But the system was built around line coach Jim Washburn's wide-nine scheme up front.

While Castillo managed to keep the thing from falling apart, it collapsed on Bowles as lame duck Andy Reid's Eagles limped to a 4-12 finish. Bowles, who declined an interview request from The Inquirer, spoke with Arizona reporters on Thursday about his doomed days with the Birds.

"I learned just to keep grinding," Bowles said. "You're never too old to learn anything. You're never too knowledgeable not to take advice. As a whole, the organization was great. We just didn't get it done.

"But that didn't stop my belief as a coach or anything like that. It just happened to steamroll and went downhill."

It didn't change Cardinals coach Bruce Arians' belief that the 50-year-old Bowles still had what it took to be an NFL coordinator. Arians coached Bowles at Temple and he followed the former safety's coaching career, which got its start under Bill Parcells.

"One bad year out of a career doesn't make you a bad coach, or none of us would be any good," Arians said. "The situation he inherited, it wasn't his defense. He was the secondary coach of a defense that wasn't the one he would have installed.

"It's very hard to adjust a team in the middle of a season like that. I knew his body of work from Dallas and Miami, and he's a future head coach in this league."

Like Bowles, who replaced the popular and successful Ray Horton, Davis arrived in Philadelphia with little fanfare. His two previous tenures as a coordinator were shortlived. His NFL coaching career has been that of a journeyman.

Asked about watching his former Cardinals team on tape, the 48-year-old Davis joked, "I've got so many old teams that it's almost every week that I have that experience."

Most NFL coaches have multiple employers on their resumés. It's just the nature of the beast. It's one reason Chip Kelly said he didn't pay much attention to Davis' record when he interviewed this past offseason.

Davis was fired after two seasons as the Cardinals coordinator and after Arizona finished 2010 ranked 29th in the league in yards and 30th in points.

"I didn't look at his time there," Kelly said. "I looked at what does he know from a football standpoint, how intelligent is he, and what type of teacher is he, and that's what I look at. I think people get so caught up in statistics that sometimes it's baffling to me."

The Eagles defense, for instance, is 31st in yards allowed. But anyone who has watched this team this season knows it has performed better than the numbers suggest.

The Cardinals, for the record, are eighth in both yards and points allowed. Bowles inherited a defense that was already stout, but he has tweaked the 3-4 scheme. Defensive ends Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett don't play as much Steelers two-gap and have been freed to penetrate.

Bowles blitzes more than Horton, too. In fact, he has sent extra pass rushers on almost 50 percent of quarterback drops.

"I've heard that they blitz a lot," Eagles safety Nate Allen said. "He's got them playing good. But that was expected of him. He's a smart guy. He'd been around for a while, so I wouldn't have expected anything less than what he's doing."

Healthy Birds. As expected, safety Earl Wolff (knee) was listed as out on the Eagles' Friday injury report. Patrick Chung will start in his place for the second straight game. Every other player is expected to be eligible to play Sunday.


jmclane@phillynews.com

@Jeff_McLane

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