The Dolphins entered the season as a dark horse contender after signing defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh to a megabucks free agent deal and locking up quarterback Ryan Tanehill with a contract extension. After four weeks, they stand at 1-3 after two blowout losses to division opponents. They have an impotent offense led by Tanehill, a clueless defense for which Suh has done nothing and a stench of incompetence across the board. With a bye week looming, it is the kind of disaster Philbin should have no chance to survive.
As eulogies are prepared for the Philbin Era in Miami, the coach on the other sideline should not be overlooked. Todd Bowles, the only coach who had to deal with a preseason saga in which his starting quarterback got his face broken by a teammate, has the Jets at 3-1 and playing a proficient brand of football that demands respect. In a quarter of a season, Bowles has eliminated the slapstick reputation so often attached to the Jets.
Bowles put in 15 seasons as an NFL assistant, including a brief stint as the Dolphins’ interim head coach, before he received his first shot to be a full-fledged head man. He grinded his way up the coaching ladder, constructing a reputation as a creative defensive mind who commanded admiration from players. For the last two seasons as Arizona’s defensive coordinator, he built some of the most fearsome defenses in the NFL.
Early returns suggest the Jets are fortunate no other team scooped up Bowles first. From training camp, Bowles has instilled discipline and established strict standards. In August, Bowles forced the entire roster to run extra sprints in withering heat after a practice fight between teammates. When linebacker IK Enemkpali broke quarterback Geno Smith’s jaw, Bowles handled a chaotic situation with clarity and leadership. He immediately cut Enemkpali, chastised Smith for his role and aligned the entire team confidently behind journeyman backup Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Fitzpatrick has thrived behind a rebuilt offensive line, the power running of Chris Ivory and Brandon Marshall’s veteran savvy on the outside. New General Manager Mike Maccagnan deserves credit for hiring Bowles, and he also deserves credit for acquiring Marshall in a draft-pick trade with the Chicago Bears. In four games, Marshall has 30 catches for 400 yards and three touchdowns.
While the Jets’ offense has been solid, they have won games on the back of Bowles’ specialty, his blitz-heavy defense. The Jets have mimicked the model Bowles used in Arizona, building a marauding defensive line and then sending pressure from anywhere and everywhere. They entered Week 4 leading the NFL with 11 takeaways. Their secondary is one of the NFL’s best, led by cornerback Darrelle Revis, whose interception in the end zone in the fourth quarter Sunday sealed the Jets’ victory. He is a big-ticket free agent who has been worth the money.
The Dolphins wouldn’t know anything about that. They signed Suh this offseason to a six-year, $114 million contract with almost $60 million guaranteed. He’s still looking for his first sack and he has only eight tackles. He’s drawn far more attention for on-the-edge hits than his play. Sunday, he kicked Fitzpatrick’s helmet off after his chasing him down near the sideline. It may have been inadvertent, but given Suh’s history it also may have been intentional.
It’s hard to say whether any player could have helped Miami’s defense given the apparent dysfunction within the unit. Sunday morning, NFL.com reported defensive players held a meeting with defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle and excoriated him for complicated schemes and misuse of personnel.
Coyle’s days are probably numbered, and that’s also a development that comes back on the head coach. Philbin has overseen a quarter-season debacle, with the type of sideshows often associated with the Jets. Meanwhile, under Bowles, the Jets are the team that looks like an under-the-radar playoff hopeful. Philbin clearly deserves plenty of blame, but don’t forget to give Bowles the credit he is due.