Arizona Cardinals: Comparing Ray Horton and Todd Bowles in how OLBs are used

Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

The two coordinators used their outside linebackers a little differently.

Have you wondered about how the Arizona Cardinals defense differed between Ray Horton and Todd Bowles. I have.

For one, I wondered about how the outside linebackers were used, particularly in coverage. With my premium Pro Football Focus subscription, I caught a glance at this past season and thought that they were used less in coverage than I remembered them doing with Ray Horton.

That is what led to this post. Let's take a look at 2012 and 2013 and how outside linebackers were used in coverage, as this is something about 3-4 defenses that is different for linebackers -- they have to drop back into coverage.

Year total snaps pass coverage snaps % in coverage
2012 2051 331 16.1
2013 2057 182 8.8

You can see that there was a big drop -- almost half. Horton's scheme looks more like a traditional 3-4 in terms of what the outside backers do in coverage. Bowles did not ask that of his guys.

However, if you look at it individually, it appears to be a case where Bowles adjusted to the player ability. Take John Abraham. He started his career as a 3-4 OLB, but most of his career he was a pass rushing 4-3 DE. He dropped into coverage only 8.5 percent of the time.

Matt Shaughnessy had never played 3-4 OLB before 2013. He dropped back 7.9 percent of the time.

But take Lorenzo Alexander and Sam Acho. Alexander had not played in a 3-4 system before, but had played both inside and out in a 4-3. He was in coverage 18.8 percent of the time. Acho, who was the starter in 2012 and played a lot in coverage, did so 14.4 percent of the time for Bowles. '

Note that Alexander and Acho were the two starters at OLB to start the season. They were both lost for the season against the Saints.

Once the personnel changed, Bowles did, too. Playing in coverage wasn't something Abraham and Shaughnessy did a lot. In 2012, Abraham did so less than five percent of the time, while Shuaghnessy only had to drop into coverage a total of five times in 2012, which was less than one percent of the time.

The Cardinals will presumably be at full help in 2014 at the position. They have Sam Acho back and Alex Okafor as well. Alexander has been moved inside.

Will we see more of the linebackers in coverage this season?

If we are to use 2013 as an example, it will depend on personnel. Bowles doesn't seem to like to force guys into doing something schematically that they might not be good at, just to fit the scheme.

The question is whether Horton would have done the same thing with the same personnel.  Would Shaughnessy and Abraham been asked to do more in coverage than they had to for Bowles? That is something we won't ever know.

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