New York Jets Head Coach Todd Bowles is presumed by many to be an inevitable scapegoat for the 2017 season. Despite the team’s limited talent level and low expectations, can Bowles survive this year?
Bowles came to New York Jets fresh off winning the AP’s Assistant Coach of the Year Award as the Defensive Coordinator for the Arizona Cardinals. He was framed as a mild-mannered but stern coach who would bring needed discipline, accountability and maturity to a Jets team floundering from Rex Ryan’s post 2010 decline. Bowles would also craft a creative, flexible defensive scheme that would maximize player’s abilities, rather than force a square peg into a round hole to fit his style of defense. He would have credibility as a former NFL player but wouldn’t let the locker room spiral out of control or feed attention grabbing quotes to the media.
As a rookie Head Coach, Bowles was a mixed bag but ultimately had a relatively encouraging debut season. Early in the year, he navigated Sheldon Richardson’s suspension and JAW-GATE (IK Enemkpali punching Geno Smith), two incidents from Ryan/John Idzik holdovers. The team started the season strong and played disciplined football, regularly winning the turnover battle and convincingly beating teams (the Jets had six double digit wins in 2015). Despite a midseason rough patch, the team bounced back with a five game winning streak to tee up the opportunity for a playoff spot.
We know what happened in that week 17 game and it was among Bowles’ problems his rookie year. The Jets lost two games to an inferior Buffalo team and were unable to avoid an early season let down against a mediocre Eagles team. There were signs of game management issues, including playing overly conservative and some odd player usage choices (Stevan Ridley over Chris Ivory vs. Buffalo comes to mind).
Despite these problems, Bowles coaching staff decisions appeared to be wise. Chan Gailey made the savvy decision to move Eric Decker in the slot, utilize Quincy Enunwa at the H and increase Bilal Powell’s usage down the stretch. Across the board, young players took a positive a step forward or had career years (Enunwa, Marcus Williams, Muhammad Wilkerson, Calvin Pryor, James Carpenter and Marcus Gilchrist among them).
Similar to the rest of the organization, this progress went up in flames during 2016. Bowles made the mistake of publicly talking up an unsigned free agent as his starting quarterback and it was all downhill from there. The team played sloppy, disorganized and most alarmingly disinterested football. Instead of improving game management, the issues intensified along with the conservative decision making and Bowles sounded increasingly out of touch when dealing with the media.
Players regressed across the board, especially on defense, with Pryor, Gilchrist, Marcus Williams, Lorenzo Mauldin, Wilkerson, and Sheldon Richardson leading the charge. Rookie Darron Lee had a disappointing debut and multiple instances of locker room conflict leaked out. Bowles seemed out of the loop with the decision to release David Harris and has had two players with legal issues this offseason (Robby Anderson and Mauldin) and another all over Deadspin for nearly getting in a fight at a music festival (Lee).
For some, Bowles has went from a promising up and coming coach to Rich Kotite 2.0 in a single year. Hyperbole aside, what can Bowles do in 2017 to return in 2018?
It is fair to argue the Jets have the worst roster in the NFL right now. There seems to be an understanding within the organization that this is a rebuilding year and assets are being compiled to be allocated for the 2018 team and beyond. Nobody has a real understanding of either Bowles or Mike Maccagnan’s job security or if it goes hand in hand. Woody Johnson can be fickle, his brother is now taking on a larger management role and you never know who will be hired as a consultant.
Realistically, Bowles needs the young players on this roster (namely the ones selected in the 2015, 2016 and 2017 NFL Drafts) to take positive development strides. He needs to show marked improvement on game management, play less conservative and be more cognizant of his messaging to the media. The Jets can be bad due to their talent level but still play smart, disciplined football and show up each week (which they did not do down the stretch last year). If Bowles is fielding a young, competitive, high energy team that isn’t playing dumb week after week, he will have a reasonable case to return as the talent hopefully begins to ascend.
It would also behoove Bowles to get more hands on with his defense and show a little creativity when it comes to maximizing a young, limited group of defensive backs and pass rushers. Kacy Rodgers has not done much to inspire confidence as the Defensive Coordinator and has been a checkmark in the negative column on Bowles’ resume as a HC so far.
It is an uphill climb for Bowles to be back in 2018, as rebuilding situations are generally not favorable to coaching staffs who rightly feel pressure to win every week.
Photo Credit: NewYorkJets.