Football Outsiders’ essential annual has a special call-out of Todd Bowles’ Defense:
In Todd We Trust
Todd Bowles’ defensive game plan in 2014 was a little more complicated than “blitz everyone all the time.” Here’s a look at where and when Bowles was most likely to use blitzes:
– Thou shalt blitz a lot of defensive backs.
– Thou shalt be conservative when down by one score.
– Thou shalt blitz more in the beginning and end of games than in the middle.
– Thou shalt blitz like crazy at crunch time.
– Thou shalt blitz all over the field—with one notable exception.
– Thou shalt open all barrels when it’s time to get off the field.
We’ve been told through the offseason that we might not notice a change from Bowles’ defense to new defensive coordinator James Bettcher’s. This week, we’re going to take a closer look at that based on Bettcher’s first game as defensive coordinator.
Last year in the Cards’ Week 1 matched up against a pass-happy team with an elite QB and a terrible defense, and the Chargers game came down to a 3rd down play with less than two minutes left on the clock and a one-point lead. Here’s what Phillip Rivers saw after the snap:
That’s a cover-3 defense with a 7-man rush. An inside defensive back is watching the hot route where Rivers could dump off the ball. Instead, the former All-Pro ended up essentially spiking the ball, rattled by unrelenting pressure from the home crowd.
This Sunday, James Bettcher, holding a five-point lead against a future Hall of Fame quarterback, sent four rushers across the line of scrimmage three times. These moments of crisis reveal the primary tendencies and instincts of a person. Bettcher’s instinct was to drop off into coverage.
It’s interesting that Calais Campbell isn’t even on the field in this situation. The designated rushers are Markus Golden, Frostee Rucker, Cory Redding, and Alex Okafor. Okafor and Golden are lined up inside of the defensive ends. At the snap, Redding is going to push the gap between the left tackle and guard, and Golden is going to stunt behind him. Rucker and Okafor essentially bull rush.
Coverage behind is a Cover-2 man free. Tony Jefferson and Rashard Johnson are playing halves of the field, with Johnson on the more loaded side. Peterson is lined up in the slot against Brandin Cooks; Tyrann Mathieu is lined up on the outside against an unidentifiable receiver. Jerraud Powers is lined up across from Marques Colston on the inside of the bunch, and Deone Bucannon is alone on the other side of the formation with the tight end.
The Saints run a fairly straightforward “verticals” concept. Colston and the outside receiver run vertical routes to pressure the safety into committing to one player. Cooks will run an out to further induce the safety to step up and declare his coverage, which is also the intention of the out route run by the opposite receiver. Brees should recognize which receiver is in single coverage and deliver the ball.
The pass rush does little to pressure Brees or move him off his mark. The play actually works as designed. Bucannon stumbles off the line, but overall it’s unusual to see the Cardinals defense playing so passively in a big situation that essentially wins the game:
Brees misplaces the ball a little high and to the inside, and Colston can’t bring it in. It’s boggling that Sean Peyton didn’t attempt a 4th down play in this situation.
The result is a win, but fans of the Todd Bowles defense certainly have cause for concern about the young defensive coordinator breaking the Commandments in his first pressure situation.
On to Chicago.