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NFL: AUG 23 Preseason - Browns at Buccaneers

What should we expect from Todd Bowles’ defense in Year Two? Pt. I

Analyzing the numbers for a small preview of what may happen in 2020.

Can Todd Bowles take the Bucs’ defense to the top of the mountain in 2020?
| Photo by Roy K. Miller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Projections can vary in a lot of ways. They can be exciting, they can be depressing, they can be informal, etc. When we get down to brass tacks, however, it’s pretty easy to agree that no matter how we feel about projections - they are always fun to look into.

For the Buccaneers, I want to know how the defense projects in Year Two under Todd Bowles. There’s a lot to be excited about as we head into the 2020 season. The defense showed a lot of improvement last year and the core is intact for another run.

For this exercise, I’m going to take a look at the jump - or slide - numbers-wise for Todd Bowles’ defenses from Year One to Year Two. I’ll use raw stats and Football Outsiders’ DVOA metrics (click here for an explanation on how they do things) and then average the percentages and rise/fall in rankings from Year One to Year Two. I’ll also factor in roster turnover, injuries, and coaching responsibilities for context.

There’s a lot to uncover here, so this will be the first part of a three-part series. I’m going to do a post detailing Bowles’ time in Arizona, a post detailing his time in New York, and a post detailing what he’s done in Tampa Bay so far and what these numbers possibly hold for the Bucs’ defense in 2020.

Obviously, these are just numbers and what really matters is what happens on the field. But, we will at least get an idea of what we can somewhat expect from this defense in 2020.

Year One with the Arizona Cardinals (2013)

Bowles inherited a good defense from the Cardinals’ 2012 season. That unit finished as the 12th-best defense in terms of yards allowed (337.8) and the 16th-best defense in terms of points allowed (22.3). The 2012 unit also gave up (200.8) yards per game through the air (5th) and allowed 137 yards per game on the ground (28th). The defense also forced 33 turnovers that year, which was good for fourth-best in the league.

In terms of DVOA, the Cardinals’ 2012 defense was the sixth-best defense (-13.5%) with a weighted mark of (-10.0%), which was also good for sixth-best. The pass defense finished out as the second-best pass defense (-21.3%), while the run defense was rated as the 16th-best (-5.6%) in the league.

Bowles first year as a defensive coordinator saw improvement in multiple areas. In 2013, the defense jumped from 12th-best to sixth-best in the NFL (317.4 ypg) and from 16th-best to seventh-best in terms of points per game (20.2). The Cardinals gave up the 14th-most passing yards in 2013 (233 ypg), but allowed the least amount of rushing yards per game (84.4). The team stayed pretty steady in terms of turnovers, forcing 30 and finishing with the sixth-highest mark in the league.

DVOA-wise, Bowles’ unit was the second-best in the league with a (-16.4%) final number. That included the second-highest weighted mark (-18.5%), the fifth-highest passing mark (-11.2%), and the league’s best run defense metric (-24.9%).

What are the end results from Year One?

  • Bowles’ defense jumped from 12th to 6th in overall defense with a 6% decrease in total yards allowed. The pass defense ranking dropped 9 spots (5th to 14th), but the run defense ranking increased from 28th to 1st. Passing yards allowed increased by 14% and rushing yards allowed decreased by 38%.
  • The defense jumped from 16th to 7th in points allowed and gave up 9% fewer points. Turnovers decreased at a small rate, dropping from 33 in 2012 to 30 in 2013. That represents a 9% decrease in turnovers and a two-spot drop rankings-wise (4th to 6th).
  • In terms of DVOA, the overall defense rose from 6th to 4th with a four-spot increase in weighted ranking (6th to 2nd). The pass defense dropped from 2nd to 5th while the run defense rose from 16th to 1st.

Year Two with the Arizona Cardinals (2014)

Before we get into the numbers, let’s start with the attrition/turnover rate concerning the 2014 roster.

Bowles lost seven starters due to injury, suspension, or free agency at one point during the 2014 season. A lot of those players were key contributors on the 2013 roster, as well. John Abraham went down for the year during Week 2 and Darnell Dockett was placed on IR after Week 1. Linebacker Matt Shaughnessy missed nine games, while Tyrann Mathieu missed three and Calais Campbell missed two.

Daryl Washington was suspended for the season and Karlos Dansby signed with the Browns during the 2014 offseason. Antonio Cromartie was the only starter added to the team.

Needless to say, Bowles had a lot going on in 2014, yet he still managed to field one of the NFL’s best defenses and win the first-ever NFL Assistant Coach of the Year Award.

But the injuries, suspensions, and free agent losses took their toll. The total defense dropped 18 spots in the rankings (6th to 24th). It also presented a 14% increase in total yards allowed (317.4 to 368.2). Bowles’ secondary went from allowing 233 yards through the air in 2013 to allowing 259.5 yards through the air in 2014. That’s good for a 10% increase in yards allowed, which caused the pass defense to fall from 14th to 29th. The unit also allowed more yards on the ground. They went from allowing 84.4 yards per game in 2013 to allowing 108.7 yards per game in 2014. This represents a 22% increase in yards and a 12-spot drop in rankings 1st to 13th. Turnovers decreased, too, from 30 in 2013 to 25 in 2014 (6th to 14th). Those numbers show a 17% decrease in actual turnovers and caused the Bucs to fall 8 spots in the rankings.

Despite the drop in yardage and turnovers, the defense actually allowed fewer points per game in 2014. They gave up the fifth-fewest (18.7), which was good for a 7% decrease in points allowed (20.2 to 18.7) and caused them to move up into the top-5 (7th to 5th).

The drop wasn’t as bad when it comes to the DVOA metric. Bowles’ defense went from 2nd to 7th (-16.4% to -5.0%), which represented a 70% decrease in the overall metric. The weighted defense dropped from 2nd to 14th (-18.5% to -5.2%), marking a 72% drop metric-wise.

Defensive efficiency in terms of pass defense dropped 9 spots (5th to 14th) and 134% metric-wise (-11.2% to 3.8%). The run defense went from 1st to 6th and from (-24.9% to -17.3%), which was a 31% decrease.

What are the end results?

  • The overall defense dropped 18 spots (6th to 24th) and the total yards allowed increased by 14%. The pass defense fell from 14th to 29th, which represented a 10% increase in passing yards allowed. The run defense suffered, too, dropping from 1st to 13th in the rankings, marking a 22% increase in yards allowed.
  • The amount of turnovers produced went down by 17% and caused the Cardinals to fall from 6th to 14th in 2014. However, the defense managed to give up 7% fewer points, making them a top-5 unit that year (7th to 5th).
  • The overall decrease in DVOA wasn’t as bad as the raw stats. The unit went from 2nd in 2013 to 7th in 2014, representing a 70% decrease in the overall metric. However, the pass defense fell a whopping 134% metric-wise and fell from 5th to 14th, while the run defense dropped, too, falling from 1st to 6th and representing a 31% decrease in the overall metric.

This is a lot of numbers. So what does all this say (numbers-wise) about Bowles’ second year in Arizona?

Numbers don’t tell the whole story, especially when you consider these first two years. Bowles and the Cardinals dealt with a slew of injuries in 2014 that obviously held the team back in some regard.

He inherited a good defense from the 2012 season and made them better in almost every aspect throughout the 2013 season. 2014 was probably going to be even better, but the injuries man, the injuries! A good coach can always keep the ship afloat no matter how dire the situation, so it was good to see Bowles keep his head above water during his second year in Arizona.

The biggest takeaway from Bowles’ time in Arizona is that he kept his opponents from scoring points. That’s obviously the most important stat for a defense and he was able to keep his guys on the positive side of things in both 2013 and 2014. The turnover rate actually stayed pretty high, as well, even if it declined from year-to-year. Bowles’ defense remained in the top-half of the league.

Another takeaway was the weighted defense in Year One. If you didn’t catch Football Outsiders’ description of what that represents, no worries, I’ll tell you. It represents both a defense’s improvement throughout the year and how consistent a defense is throughout the year. Bowles maintained that high level of play from 2012 during his first year in Arizona and the hope is he can maintain the high level of play from the back end of Tampa Bay’s 2019 season.

I know I said I’d average out the results from Year One to Year Two, but as you can see, this is just our base sample. We will get more numbers in Part Two, which will cover Bowles’ time as the head coach of the New York Jets.

Be sure to check out Part Two in the coming days!!

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