The Bucs signed Todd Bowles to a well deserved three-year extension Wednesday, which made him the highest-paid defensive coordinator in the NFL. It’s a smart move for the Bucs, who know Bowles is highly regarded around the league. Especially after watching him go through numerous interviews back in the spring.
When you look at the numbers and the tape, it’s easy to see why the Bucs want Bowles around for the foreseeable future. The Bucs defense, after a decade of misery, has gone from a major weakness to a big strength in just two years under Bowles.
I decided to go back over the last 10 years – which holds some of the Bucs’ worst defenses in recent memory- and compare/contrast how the defense fared then and how it has fared over the last two years. Once you’re done reading, you’ll see why the Bucs decided to extend Bowles.
5. The Bucs have improved each year in points allowed under Bowles
From 2008-2018, the Bucs allowed the second-most points in the NFL (4,360) through 176 games. Only the Raiders allowed more. That’s an average of 24.7 points per game. The Bucs had the fifth-worst point differential (-746) over that same span.
There are a myriad of factors as to why Bowles couldn’t get the defense out of the bottom-5 in terms of points allowed in 2019, but 2020 saw the Bucs defense finish eighth in points allowed (335). Overall, the Bucs have allowed an average of 25.1 points since 2019, which is the 10th-most in the NFL. 2020 saw them finish with an average of 20.9 points allowed, which is obviously marked improvement.
Here’s the wild part about this whole scenario: Even if the Bucs defense allowed 29.3 points per game in 2019, they still finished with a positive point differential and have a +137 mark over the last two years combined.
4. Sacks and pressures have increased dramatically since 2019
The Bucs used to have a reputation for getting after the quarterback, but that faded over the 10 years before Bowles’ arrival. The defense turned in seven of its top-15 worst sack totals throughout a single season from 2008-2018. The Bucs recorded the second-fewest sacks in the NFL during those 10 years and were over by just 2.0 sacks from tying the Falcons for dead-last.
That’s completely changed since Bowles took over. The Bucs have recorded the third- and second-most sack totals in a single season (respectively) in team history during his first two years. They went from averaging nearly 2.0 sacks per game through 176 games to nearly 3.0 sacks per game through the last 32 games.
It’s not like the Bucs were stacked with pass-rushing talent and Bowles just found a way to make things work, either. Jason Pierre-Paul had just ended the Bucs’ 12-year drought without a double-digit pass rusher in 2018, one year before Bowles arrived. Bowles had a hand in signing Shaquil Barrett and Ndamukong Suh, drafting Devin White and Antoine Winfield Jr., and he’s the one implementing the exotic defensive scheme/various blitz packages that are so effective. A lot of the Bucs’ current pass rush production comes from personnel decisions he helped make. And just from the genius of his own mind, as well.
As a result, the Bucs have the fourth-most sacks in the NFL over the last two years and possess one of the most feared -and respected- front sevens in the NFL.
3. Bowles has completely turned the Bucs run defense around
This one is the easiest, most obvious reasons of them all. The Bucs were pretty bad when defending the run prior to Bowles. They allowed the seventh-most rushing yards from 2008-2018, the 11th-highest yards per carry mark, and the fifth-most rushing touchdowns. Teams constantly found themselves moving the chains thanks to the Bucs weak run defense, evidenced by Tampa Bay giving up the third-most first downs on the ground during that time, as well.
Giving up an average of 120.9 rushing yards per game isn’t going to win you many games. Bowles immediately strengthened the Bucs porous run defense in his first year. What’s even more impressive is how it carried over into his second year at the helm.
The Bucs allowed just 73.8 yards per game and 3.26 yards per carry in 2019, both league-best numbers. They led the league in both yards allowed per game and yards per carry again in 2020. As a matter of fact, the Bucs total of 2,470 rushing yards allowed over the last two seasons is nearly 500 yards less (493 to be exact) than the second-place New Orleans Saints, who have given up 2,963 rushing yards the last two seasons. 2019’s and 2020’s rushing totals represent the second- and third-lowest totals allowed during a single season in team history, as well.
In terms of advanced analytics, the Bucs run defense is in pretty rare territory. Per The Football Outsiders Almanac, the Bucs were the first team to lead the NFL in run defense in back-to-back seasons since the 2015-2016 Jets. And guess what? Bowles was the head coach of those Jets teams, too.
2. Continuity is key -and rare- in the NFL
The theme of the Bucs offseason has been all about keeping the team intact. 11 of 12 starters -plus multiple depth pieces- are entering their third year under Bowles. Bowles’ defense is life for guys like Sean Murphy-Bunting, Jamel Dean, and Devin White (among others). This is all they’ve known since entering the NFL.
Then there are other guys like Carlton Davis III, Vita Vea, Jordan Whitehead, etc. who will have played under Bowles for three out of their four years in the league once 2021 officially begins. The key with all these aforementioned names is they are all crucial components/core pieces on the defense. They’re all young, too.
Keeping Bowles around -on paper, at least- helps assure the continued growth of these players. It’s hard to sit here and say that each player hasn’t gotten better under Bowles’ tutelage. Yes, there have certainly been growing pains, but you can see the production and improvement on the field.
It’s already hard enough keeping rosters intact, let alone coaching staffs. The turnover rate is just as high and the opportunities to climb the ladder are just as rare. The Bucs aren’t precluding Bowles from getting another head coaching job, but the extension is at least a sign that they are trying to build this team the right way by keeping the continuity alive.
1. The Super Bowl LV game plan
I mean, let’s be real: Bowles absolutely, 1,000% deserves the extension based off his overall body of work. But the Super Bowl LV game plan was so good that it would have been enough justification to give just about any defensive coordinator extra years and dollars on their contract.
But no matter how you slice it, it was a masterful game plan. The Chiefs have never been dominated like that since Patrick Mahomes has been under center.
Just take a look at the trends that Bowles either broke or started after those four quarters:
- Bowles is the first defensive coordinator to hold the Chiefs to zero touchdowns in 54 games (regular season and playoffs) with Mahomes at quarterback.
- He’s the first defensive coordinator to hold Mahomes to zero touchdowns in eight postseason games.
- Bowles held Mahomes to zero touchdowns in a game for the just the third time during Mahomes’ career.
- The Chiefs averaged 31 points per game through 46 regular season games and 34 points through seven previous postseason games with Mahomes at quarterback. Bowles and the Bucs defense held them to just nine points in the Super Bowl.
The Chiefs were considered to be the NFL’s next dynasty, but Bowles but the brakes on that real fast. Tampa Bay’s defensive performance -much like the one that won Super Bowl XXXVII- will go down as one of the greatest defensive performances in Super Bowl history.
There are plenty of reasons why the Bucs gave Bowles the three-year extension, but these five are arguably the biggest of them all. There has been significant, on-field improvement each year and the defense played its best ball when it mattered most – during the playoffs and in the Super Bowl.
There’s still plenty to work on when it comes to Year Three. But right now, you have to feel good about what’s going on defensively if you’re the Bucs.