TEMPE, Ariz. — Sunday will be a reunion of sorts at Lincoln Financial Field for Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles.
But not the kind that greeted Arizona head coach Bruce Arians last Sunday when he faced off against his former team, the Indianapolis Colts.
Like Arians’ time in Indianapolis, Bowles’ tenure with the Philadelphia Eagles was short-lived. However, it was for a far different reason.
Although he signed on to be Philadelphia’s defensive backs coach in Jan. 2012, Bowles was quickly promoted to the defensive coordinator position on an “interim” basis mid-season, as the organization decided to part ways with an embattled Juan Castillo.
Needless to say, the switch didn’t bring about a change in production. In fact, the defense statistically got worse.
Following Bowles’ “interim” promotion, the Eagles promptly dropped nine of their last 10 games. In those 10 games, his unit allowed an average of 32.9 points per game, and opponents eclipsed the 30-point mark on eight different occasions.
Not surprisingly, he wasn’t retained when Philadelphia hired Chip Kelly in Jan. 2013.
“As a coach, when you’re given a job you think you can do everything,” Bowles said of his time as the Eagles’ defensive coordinator. “I didn’t get it done, and we didn’t get it done as a team.”
Bowles’ inability to right the ship with the Eagles, though, did not deter his former head coach at Temple, Arians, from bringing him into the fold in Arizona.
While his arrival in the Valley wasn’t met with much fanfare, Bowles has done a tremendous job during his first season with the Cardinals. Not only has he kept former coordinator Ray Horton’s unit afloat, he’s actually improved it.
Given the additions of John Abraham, Matt Shaughnessy, Karlos Dansby, Tyrann Mathieu, Jerraud Powers and Yeremiah Bell, Bowles has been able to make the most of his latest professional chance, turning a good defense into an elite one.
Heading into Sunday’s game, the Cardinals have the second-ranked run defense (81.3 yards per game) and the eighth-ranked total defense (317.1 yards per game). They’ve also forced the sixth-most turnovers (26) and allowed the eighth-fewest points per game (20.3).
But how different is Bowles from 2012 and 2013?
If you ask him, not a whole lot has changed.
“I learned [last year] to just keep grinding,” said Bowles. “You’re never too old to learn anything and you’re never too knowledgeable not to take advice from everyone else. As a whole, the organization was great. We just didn’t get it done. It didn’t stop my belief that I could coach or anything like that. It just happened to steam roll and we went downhill.
“[Last season] was more or less about frustration but not any kind of self doubt. You’re frustrated as a coach or a player, because you try to win every game. And when you don’t and it starts snowballing, sometimes there is no way out. We couldn’t get out of our own way.”
But even in the face of newfound prosperity, the Cardinals’ first-year defensive coordinator said he’s not concerned with vindication or sticking it to the Eagles.
“This is a player’s game,” said Bowles. “I said that a long time ago. It’s a player’s game. I get satisfaction out of game planning, helping us get to the playoffs and trying to help us win a Super Bowl. That’s about it for me.”
The NFL may in fact be a player’s game, but one of those players, Dansby, acknowledged that Bowles deserves a bulk of the credit for remake Arizona’s defense into one of the more stout units in the league.
Dansby, who played under Bowles back in 2011 when the 50-year-old went from being the Miami Dolphins’ secondary coach to their “interim” head coach, said the biggest difference he sees, is that unlike in past jobs the former NFL safety has finally been given the opportunity to lead on a full-time basis.
“He’s running the show here,” Dansby said. “He’s the defensive coordinator here. [In Miami], he was the defensive backs coach and then at that time he ended up being the interim head coach. When he was the head coach, we played lights out for him because we wanted to get him the job. I don’t think they ever interviewed though at that time, but I’m not sure how that situation.
“Him as a defensive coordinator is awesome. His approach to the game is perfect. He puts playmakers in a position to make plays. Man, we’re having fun.”
Bowles’ current players would certainly like to add to that fun by highlighting his return to the City of Brotherly Love with a victory.
“I think any time a coach comes back to a place [he used to coach], you want to win for him,” Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell said. “He’s our coach, and we want to make sure that when he goes back around to a place he’s been before that he comes with a mindset that they should regret losing him. That’s everything.
“Everybody that comes to a different team and goes back and plays their old team, they’re always going to go out there with a little more vengeance, trying to show that team that let them go that they shouldn’t have.”
With that said, Campbell noted that Bowles didn’t even bring up his past affiliation with Sunday’s opponent, instead choosing to focus on the task at hand: staying in the playoff picture.
“I think the biggest thing is we want to go out there and play good football,” said Campbell. “We’re a playoff team in our opinion, and we have to go out there and show it week in and week out.
“This game is bigger than story lines. It’s about getting to where we want to be and our goals and that’s the playoffs.”