Monday evening's matchup between the Arizona Cardinals and the New York Jets features a fascinating dynamic, as Jets coach Todd Bowles returns to Arizona for the first time since earning Assistant Coach of the Year honors in 2014 as the Cardinals' defensive coordinator.
Bowles was credited as the mastermind behind an Arizona scheme that survived a Carson Palmer injury to make the playoffs, and became one of the hottest names on the coaching market for his efforts.
After leading the Jets to a 10-6 record in 2015, though, Bowles finds himself in a precarious position as his 1-4 New York squad comes to Glendale to battle a 2-3 Arizona team.
On Wednesday, Cardinals' head coach Bruce Arians, who coached Bowles at the college level at Temple and helped develop him as an assistant, said Arizona still runs the same defense Bowles did when he called the shots in 2013 and 2014. However, Bowles said there are still similarities to what he and current Cardinals' defensive coordinator James Bettcher did with the team's defense, there are a number of important tweaks.
"They've tweaked quite a few things, they have some things that you see that you remember that you know and they have some things that they've tweaked in their scheme a little differently," Bowles said. "But they still got a lot of guys that play fast, they just play good football."
The primary difference Bowles cited is the Cardinals' blitz packages, which are among the most original in the NFL. Bettcher has a reputation as an avid blitzer, and as a result, some of the Cardinals' coverages have adjusted to allow the team flexibility within its blitz packages.
"They've got different blitz schemes and different coverages here and there," Bowles said. "Using guys a little bit differently than when I was there."
On Thursday, Bowles offered a tremendous amount of respect to Cardinals' stars Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald, who were key players during Bowles' tenure with the team. While many analysts have criticized Palmer's play this season, Bowles said his struggles have been a result of the work of opposing defenses, not faults within Palmer's own game.
"He can throw the ball, they've gotten to him a few times here and there," Bowles said. "The Rams got after him pretty good and Buffalo played very well against him but that's nothing that you saw from him. He throws the ball very well and he and Fitzgerald have a connection that is unbelievable and you've got to expect that the best Carson Palmer you're going to get. Just practicing against him for two years, I know that he's a hell of a quarterback."
Interestingly, while Bowles cited Los Angeles and Buffalo's pressure schemes that impacted Palmer's success, he didn't want to tip his hand and suggest the Jets will rely on pressure alone to disrupt the Cardinals' passing attack.
Even though cornerback Darrelle Revis is questionable at best for Monday's game with an injury --and his effectiveness isn't nearly what it has been in recent years--Bowles said the Jets' coverage capabilities this week will help determine whether New York elects to pressure Palmer.
"At times, depends on the coverage," Bowles said when asked about pressuring Palmer. "They've got receivers too. They've got the full gamut with the run game and the receivers, it's easy to say you get to him but it's not that easy to get to him. You've got to cover a lot of things."
Perhaps Bowles' highest praise was reserved for Fitzgerald, who leads the Cardinals' in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns through five games. At 33 years old, there's uncertainty regarding how long Fitzgerald plans to continue playing, but it's clear Bowles still considers him one of the best receivers in the game.
"True professional on and off the field," Bowles said. "Takes care of his (Fitzgerald) body, loves the game, probably one of them ambassadors of the game. Just knowing Larry, you have to take your hat off to him."