Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles has the Cardinals ranked eighth in the NFL and second against the run.
Last week, the storyline for the Cardinals was head coach Bruce Arians' emotional reunion against his former team, the Colts. This week, defensive coordinator Todd Bowles gets the same storyline against the Eagles, right?
The notion draws a big laugh from Bowles. "It's not quite the same," Bowles said.
Bowles sits in his office, even-keeled as ever. He resides as the boss of one of the better defenses in the NFL, a unit that has climbed to eighth-ranked overall – second against the run – and one that serves as the backbone of the 7-4 Cardinals. The questions that came rapid fire when he was hired by Arians to replace Ray Horton have vanished, as have the ones that followed him from Philadelphia after a rough half-season as defensive coordinator there last season.
As always, Bowles knows what has been said about him and shrugs it off. He spent only a year with the Eagles and as an interim defensive coordinator inherited a sinking ship. It was the definition of no-win. But allowed to have a full offseason to install his plan,
and with a talented group of players, Bowles has emerged as exactly the talented leader Arians promised.
As always, Bowles would rather step back from such discussion.
"I've been on the front page, good and bad," Bowles said. "It's a players' game. I love the Xs and Os part of it. I love the scheming, I love teaching. But it's a players' game. They are out there working and they should get all the credit. My satisfaction is seeing them succeed. They deserve that because they do all the blood, sweat and tears."
Bowles didn't plan on getting into coaching when he was starting his NFL playing career, but in those days, the Redskins' free safety was responsible for making all the calls and adjustments on the Washington defense and Bowles was forced to learn the entire defense.
That background was virtually coaching in many ways, and made the transition easier. He worked for the Jets, Browns and Cowboys before settling in with the Dolphins for four seasons as a secondary and assistant head coach, finishing up a rough 2011 season as the interim head coach.
"He looked comfortable in that role to me," said Cardinals safety Yeremiah Bell, who played in Miami at the time. "He got the team to respond. You could tell he was in control."
Bowles found himself in Philadelphia the next season, but Andy Reid's time was coming to an end. Juan Castillo, the offensive line coach-turned-defensive coordinator, struggled mightily and was fired in October. Bowles was promoted but he had no chance.
"If a player has a bad year they work hard to come back, and it's no different for a coach," Bowles said. "No matter what the situation is, you think as a coach you are good enough to turn anything around. We didn't get it done, I didn't get it done, the players didn't get it done, the staff didn't get it done. That's all it was."
When Arians, who coached Bowles while at Temple, turned to the player he had made one of his captains, there was concern. Unnecessary, as it turned out.
"There was never a doubt in my mind," Arians said. "I knew it coming in and I just hope we get to keep him – but I'd really like to see him become a head coach."
Bowles never got emotional about the questions. There was nothing he could do more than just run the defense how he saw fit.
There was a feeling-out period he said, not only from the players wondering what he could do and how he could make them better, but from his end seeing what each player brought to the table.
Then he went to work. Bowles comes across differently than the emotional Arians or even offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin, who has been known to get loud in practice. Bowles often sounds like a doppelgänger for Morgan Freeman's character Red in the movie "The Shawshank Redemption" – but he'll have his moments.
"They will tell you that I snap," Bowles said with another laugh. "I'm not a yeller or screamer, but if you tick me off enough … there are certain things that bother me that I can't tolerate. Like going over something 50 million of times and when you walk on the field and I just told you something and you go out there and forget it, I have a major problem and we are going to have a chat."
Defensive end Calais Campbell said Bowles will often "talk trash" to motivate the unit and "what he says is always true."
"He'll be 'Yo, this is utter trash, let's pick it up. The mark of a good defense does it every day, every day, every day. You don't relax,' " Campbell said. "He may say it four or five times this week. He uses (rougher) language, but it's intense."
The defense can play better, Bowles said. Of this he is sure, although it has had its moments. In particular, Bowles thinks of the Carolina game, a 22-6 Arizona win in which the Cardinals dominated the Panthers' offense and quarterback Cam Newton.
Bowles put in a bunch of new pressures. He didn't expect all of them to work. But as the game unfolded, Bowles saw they all did. It was that day, Bowles thinks, when the players as a group truly began to believe in Bowles' system.
That's not a question anymore. "To be in the meetings and to have him breaking down the offense and it's coming out of his mouth and we are sitting watching, it's like, 'We're going to kill these guys,' " Bell said. "That's the sense you get because he is so on point."
Bowles knows Arians would like for him to be a head coach, but Bowles insists he isn't thinking of such things. He's got enough to consider with the Cardinals. Like, for instance, playing the Eagles Sunday.
"People had a lot of bad things to say about Todd because of the (Philadelphia) situation last year," Campbell said. "I think he showed what he can do with us. He puts us in the best position, makes our job easy for us. He's a genius. The second halves of games, the adjustments he makes, no one has been able to figure it out."