Why Todd Bowles' Touch to the 3-4 Defense May Make All the Difference

Tyson LanglandNFC West Lead WriterFebruary 8, 2013

Image via AZCardinals.com
Image via AZCardinals.com

Less than a month ago, Bruce Arians took over as the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals. Many wondered what the hire would spell for defensive coordinator Ray Horton. Would Arians keep the quote, unquote hot coaching prospect on board, or did he already have someone else in mind?

It turns out that he already had someone else in mind from the get go. According to Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com, "Head coach Bruce Arians also made it plain [Todd] Bowles was always going to be his guy as defensive coordinator if he ever was a head coach."

That, in turn, means the whole Horton discussion was irrelevant anyways. Based on his handling and the way things transpired when it was announced he wouldn't be the 39th head coach in Cardinals history, he was already halfway out the door.

Seemingly, everyone wins. Horton gets a nice pay increase as he heads to Cleveland and Arians hand-picked his hire. As expected, Bowles will keep the team's current 3-4 system intact, but I wouldn't expect it to resemble Horton's 3-4 scheme.

The only similarity one will notice is the three down linemen and the four linebackers. Gap discipline and responsibilities will be different on the defensive line and an emphasis may be put on having a big-name outside linebacker as a pass-rusher. None of these are absolute certainties, yet evidence from his previous stops point in that direction.

When Bowles was with the Dolphins from 2008-2011 and they were running the 3-4, they had the speed rushing talent of Cameron Wake. Prior to that he worked for the Cowboys from 2005-2007 and we all know DeMarcus Ware has been a phenomenal talent as an edge-rusher for the past eight years.

Obviously we will know more as the draft inches closer in the coming months, but according to the analysts at Pro Football Focus, rushing the quarterback from the linebacker position was a definite struggle to say the least.

Only one Cardinal linebacker who played at least 100 snaps graded out with a positive pass-rushing grade. Pro Bowl inside linebacker Daryl Washington was the lone player who finished the season with a positive pass-rushing grade. He amassed nine quarterback sacks, four quarterback hits and 10 quarterback hurries on 154 pass-rush attempts.

Fielding one linebacker who consistently gets after the quarterback should definitely raise a couple of red flags. So it would be wise of Arizona to address the outside linebacker position on either Day 1 or Day 2 of the 2013 NFL draft.

As far as the defensive line position goes, Bowles' approach has to make Darnell Dockett happy. Based on Kent Somers' article at AZCentral.com, Dockett will no longer have to play a two-gap technique.

If you're unfamiliar with a two-gap technique, it means the defensive end does his best to hold his ground and control the B and C gap. Dockett is better suited and more skilled as a one-gap technique player.

The one-gap technique means the end has one lane to cover and it allows a pass-rushing 3-4 end to shine while getting after the quarterback. Some of his best years as a pass-rusher came when he played a one-gap technique under former defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast.

Somers goes on to say, "I don’t know if that’s what Bowles has planned for Dockett, but it would make sense." It truly does make sense for a couple of reasons. Dockett was clearly less productive under Horton and wasn't utilized to his full potential.

Not to mention he will be 32 years old when the 2013 season starts, so it's better to let him focus on what he does well with a declining skill set. In NFL terms, 32 is old. Squeeze any amount of talent out of him that you can because he carries $7.7 million cap number this upcoming season.

Players like J.J. Watt and Richard Seymour (when he was with the Patriots) are ideal one-gapping, five-technique players. All in all there is still hope for Dockett after two down years, but it will require that he no longer plays out of position.

And by no means are these the only two changes that could happen during the offseason. The approach Bowles takes to the secondary and the inside linebacker positions will also be worth keeping an eye out for.

The more and more I learn about the Arizona's new defensive coordinator's direction, the more and more understandable his approach becomes.