FLORHAM PARK, N.J.
Todd Bowles may be modest about his skills as a defensive play-caller, but others have taken note.
“No doubt about it, he’s one of the best around,” Jets strong safety Calvin Pryor said of his coach.
Yet Bowles keeps it unpretentious.
“You don’t worry about it and you don’t care about it,” Bowles said yesterday. “If you still have a job and you’re employed, that means you’re doing a decent job. If you get fired quite a bit, I guess you’re not doing a good job.”
Bowles has earned well-deserved plaudits for the job he has done in his first season as a head coach, but he really isn’t appreciated enough for what he has done running the defense. While the coach he’s facing on Sunday, former Jets coach Rex Ryan, has the bigger reputation as a great defensive mind, Bowles’ imaginative and aggressive schemes are every bit as effective as Ryan’s.
Actually, they’re even better this season. Ryan’s defense largely has been a flop in Year 1 with the Bills and Bowles presides over one of the league’s top units. While Ryan is hearing criticism from a handful of players, Bowles has earned universal acclaim inside his locker room for quickly turning his team into a mostly dominant defense almost overnight.
“Everybody believes that when he draws something up, it’s going to work,” Pryor said. “He’s just very good at what he’s doing, and he’s definitely putting the right people on the field in different packages to get the job done.”
Bowles has had the benefit of an impressive roster makeover on defense, with general manager Mike Maccagnan adding cornerbacks Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie and Buster Skrine, safety Marcus Gilchrist rookie lineman Leonard Williams and rookie linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin. But without the kind of schematic vision Bowles offers, the results might not be as impressive as they’ve turned out to be.
“Todd definitely has a great defense, and it’s only going to get better,” Pryor said. “He doesn’t have any ego. It’s all about the guys in this locker room that he cares about. He’s his own man, and people love playing for him.”
Not so much with Ryan in Buffalo these days.
The Jets are sixth in total defense, allowing 320.7 yards per game, and are seventh in points allowed at 19.5 per game. Ryan’s defense, which also has plenty of talent, is allowing 360.1 yards and 22.8 points per game.
Those numbers are well behind what he promised when he got the job. In fact, Ryan boasted that he’d have the NFL’s top-ranked unit.
Instead, he has a middling group, with players such as defensive end Mario Williams questioning the very essence of his scheme. The biggest complaint is Ryan’s penchant for having linemen who were previously used to rushing the passer dropping into pass coverage instead, part of his complicated blitz packages.
“When I had him here, he’s a good coach,” Cromartie said. “We believed in and trusted in him. But those guys up there, they’ve just got to buy into the system. I think that’s what it really boils down to. Just like guys getting used to coach Todd here and his plan — us buying into the system and making it work for us. That’s what it’s really all about.”
But Bowles had his players believing from the start, and the fact the Jets are 10-5 and one win away from making the playoffs has reinforced their confidence in his system.
“Todd is very confident in what he calls,” Revis said. “I think his approach is to be very aggressive, and we try to dictate as to how [the opposing offense] is going to play the game. I think it’s just the attention to detail that he really focuses on week to week. We really dial in on what does best.”
It’s the defensive battle of wits between Bowles and Ryan that ultimately might decide the Jets’ fate. Considering Bowles’ season-long body of work since he became Ryan’s successor, it’s advantage Jets in this one.