In 2012, the Arizona Cardinals had a dominating defense. But, that defense was not good enough to save Ken Whisenhunt’s job as head coach. After he was relieved of his duty, a portion of the Cardinals fan base wanted Ray Horton, the Cardinals former defensive coordinator, to become the head coach.
Unfortunately for him, the Cardinals’ front office did not feel the same way. Ray Horton was let go, and Todd Bowles was brought in to replace him. So, it begs to question how things will change with a new defensive coordinator.
Todd Bowles has experience coaching a 3-4 defense and a 4-3 defense. While coaching for Philadelphia last year as an interim defensive coordinator after the Eagles fired Juan Castillo, Bowles did not do much to impress looking observers while running a 4-3 defense.
However, it simply isn’t fair to judge him off of that portion of his coaching career. The Eagles’ defense was horrendous to begin with, and it was too late in the season for him to install his defense with the team.
While with Miami, he coached the secondary under defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. Cardinal fans may remember Nolan from his days of being the head coach for the San Francisco 49ers.
While he may have failed as head coach, he did succeed in planting the roots of the 49ers 3-4 defense that is terrorizing the NFL these days. Cardinal fans will see this year if some of that influence rubbed off on Bowles.
With the Cardinals, Bowles will have a lot more talent to work with than in his previous coaching spots. But, after so much success last year under Horton, Bowles finds himself under pressure to live up to last year’s success. It is very possible that Bowles will make the decision to coach out of a 4-3 alignment.
The Cardinals’ roster is more equipped to do so. With no matching presence on the outside line to the inside abilities of Dockett and Campbell, it is fair to assume they will be the focal point of quarterback pressure.
The outside linebacker group lacks proven pass rushers to continue with the 3-4. Sam Acho and O’Brien Schofield have not provided reliability or consistency. The drafting of Alex Okafor is also a signal that the Bowles may be switching the defense to a 4-3. While listing him as an outside linebacker at the moment, draft scouts presume Okafor is better suited to play the 4-3 defensive end position presumably lacking the speed needed at the outside spot.
The depth in the middle linebacker core has changed as well. The Cardinals added Kevin Minter in the draft and Jasper Brinkley and Karlos Dansby through free agency to compliment Daryl Washington. With four middle linebackers that could all start in a 3-4 defense and with no reliable 3-4 pass rusher it makes more sense for Bowles to switch to the 4-3 to use talent that would be wasted on the bench in a 3-4.
The secondary has drastically changed this off season. The only 2012 Week 1 starter who will return is Patrick Peterson. Kerry Rhodes and Adrian Wilson, the 2012 starting safeties, were both released from the team.
Yeremiah Bell was brought in to replace Rhodes while Rashad Johnson will replace Adrian Wilson. At the cornerback position, William Gay and Greg Toler both left via free agency. To replace them, the Cardinals signed Jerraud Powers and Antoine Cason.
Hopefully Bowles’ experience as a secondary coach will alleviate some of the problems created with the additions and subtractions. His experience should help groom the younger secondary players like Tyrann Mathieu, Tony Jefferson and Justin Bethel. But overall the Cardinals upgraded the cornerback situation while maintaining a presence at the safety positions.
Overall, Bowles’ hire will mostly affect the defensive line. Darnell Dockett has been raving about not having to be a gap-filler anymore. The plan seems to be to have the line generate pressure on the quarterback while linebackers play coverage and stuff the run.
Under Horton, most of the pressure was generated from the middle linebackers through holes created by Campbell and Dockett.
It will be interesting to see how it all pans out. But either way the Cardinals will not be able to completely abandon the 3-4 defense. The players will have the chance to prove which scheme works better on the field come September.