clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Cardinals’ defense could use a Todd Bowles type of creativity and aggressiveness

Will Jonathan Gannon add a senior defensive advisor?

NFL: NFC Wild Card Round-Philadelphia Eagles at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

After Jonathan Gannon was hired to be the Arizona Cardinals’ new head coach, I reached out to two of my favorite Philadelphia Eagles’ beat writers to ask why the Eagles fans were so critical of their DC.

The common responses were:

  • Depends too heavily on players winning their one-on-one matchups.
  • Doesn’t blitz often enough.
  • Schemes lacks creativity and innovation.
  • Pass coverage assignment breakdowns which result in WRs, TEs and RBs being left uncovered.
  • Too heavy of a reliance on zone coverages with cushions.
  • Not enough attention paid to covering running backs.

In Arizona this season, the struggles of the Cardinals’ 31st ranked defense (32nd in defensive DVOA) can be attributed largely to the same concerns that Eagles’ pundits and fans expressed.

Clearly, the Cardinals’ overall talent on defense was not nearly as prolific as it was for Gannon in Philadelphia. That said, the areas that Gannon and DC Nick Rallis need to improve wherever and with whomever they are coaching are clear.

When Gannon last spoke to the media, he revealed that he vowed to the players that he is going to tear everything down and “start from scratch” on both sides of the ball.

Not sure why Gannon would want the offense to “start from scratch” after Drew Petzing and his coaches produced the 9th highest yards per game totals in the NFL during Kyler Murray’s encouraging 8-game stretch.

But in terms of the defense, starting over from scratch makes good sense.

I imagine that many of you who were watching the Bucs pound the Eagles on Monday night were marveling at the ultra-aggressive and highly spirited performance that Todd Bowles was getting from his defense. The Bucs’ defense was —- in one word —- awesome!

While watching the game, I was overcome with a sweet sense of nostalgia. While Todd Bowles only coached in Arizona for two seasons, I would venture to say that he was the best defensive coordinator for the Cardinals that I have ever seen. Not only was he the most aggressive defensive coach, do you remember how brilliant he was at making half-time adjustments?

Truth is —- the Cardinals’ defense has been nowhere near as aggressive, well-coached and spirited since Todd Bowles left the team nine years ago.

What was surprising to me was learning that Jonathan Gannon told Michael Bidwill and Monti Ossenfort that he would not accept the Cardinals’ head coaching job if they wanted him to run and call the defense. While I was excited to see him bring Nick Rallis with him as the team’s DC, at the time Gannon was saying that he was planning to bring in some veteran coaches to serve as advisors and mentors —- which eventually did not happen.

The most obvious choice for the defensive advisor was Mike Zimmer, whom Gannon and Rallis studied under and worked for as defensive assistants in Minnesota. Not sure whether Zimmer, or any other defensive coach was offered an advisory position. Regardless, the Cardinals entered the season with the youngest coaching staff in the NFL.

One of the major issues I’ve had with the Cardinals’ defensive game planning was how dilatory they were at prepping for the NFC West offenses. I began to wonder just how competent the Cardinals’ advanced scouts and defensive quality control personnel are —- and/or —- how ineffective the Cardinals’ coaches were in developing coherent plans/schemes to try to take away Sean McVay’s, Kyle Shanahan’s and Shane Waldron’s basic bread-and-butter plays.

Other defensive coaches in the past have left blueprints as to how to put the clamps on McVay’s and Shanahan’s bread-and-butter plays —- for example, like the brilliant way that Brian Flores did with the Dolphins in 2021 during their 43-14 win over the 49ers and their 28-17 win over the Rams. You might recall that Fores’ 4th quarter adjustments to slow down Kyler Murray by loading the box helped paved the way for the Dolphins 34-31 win in Arizona during Tua Tagovailoa’s first NFL start.

Note: after seeing Flores’ adjustments, other coaches like Pete Carroll and Bill Belichick piggybacked on Flores’ scheme to slow down Kyler.

Now that Jonathan Gannon has vowed to start from scratch in 2024, it behooves him to determine whether the team needs to hire more capable advanced scouts and defensive quality control assistants than what they had this year.

The head coach then needs to spend a great deal of time with Nick Rallis and the defensive coaches in studying the NFC West offenses, as well as the AFC North’s and NFC North’s, so that they can start to plant the game planning seeds during the team’s OTAs and mini-camps.

Yet, the most intriguing question there is for Jonathan Gannon this off-season is whether this time around he will hire a defensive advisor who can help him and Nick Rallis turn around the Cardinals’ defense.

While searching around the league for possible candidates, here is a coach who could make perfect sense:

George Edwards

NFL: International Series-Minnesota Vikings at Cleveland Browns Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

George Edwards was Mike Zimmer’s co-DC in Minnesota from 2014-2019. During that 5-year span, the Vikings had a record of 47-32-1, with two double digit win seasons, 11-5 in 2014 and 13-3 in 2017. Jonathan Gannon was Edwards’ an assistant defensive backs coach from 2014-2017.

In 2015, the Vikings 18.9 points allowed per game was 5th best in the NFL.

After Edwards left the Vikings in 2020 to become the Cowboys’ senior defensive assistant, the Vikings’ defense was never quite the same, which ultimately contributed to Mike Zimmer’s firing at the end of the 2021 season. The Vikings’ records were 15-19 combined in 2020 and 2021.

Nick Rallis was a defensive quality control and assistant linebackers coach for the Vikings from 2018-2020. He just missed out on working with George Edwards, but he had the opportunity to learn from Mike Zimmer and co-DCs Andre Patterson and Adam Zimmer.

While being the Cowboys’ senior defensive advisor for the Cowboys from 2020-2022 George Edwards was a part of the Cowboys’ resurgence on defense during the DC transition from Mike Nolan (6-10 in 2020) to Dan Quinn (12-5 in 2021 and 12-5 in 2022).

And this season, George Edwards, as the Bucs’ outside linebackers coach under Todd Bowles, has helped the Bucs win their third consecutive NFC South title. The Bucs’ defensive DVOA this season is 14th in the league and has been peaking at the right time, as evidenced during their dominant 32-9 Wild Card round win over the Eagles.

George Edwards is in his 26th season as an NFL coach. He has 8 years of experience as a defensive coordinator (WAS-1, BUF-2, MIN-5).

Notable staffs that George Edwards has coached on:

1998 Dallas Cowboys:

Defensive Coordinator: Dave Campo

Other Notable Asst.: Jim Bates (Defensive Line), George Edwards (Linebackers), Clancy Pendergast (Quality Control), and Mike Zimmer (Defensive Backs Coach)

2004 Cleveland Browns:

Defensive Coordinator: Dave Campo

Other Notable Asst.: Todd Bowles (Secondary), George Edwards (Linebackers), Chuck Pagano (Secondary), Andre Patterson (Defensive Line)

Notable Defensive Coaches whom George Edwards has worked with:

  • Dave Campo
  • Marvin Lewis
  • Clancy Pendergast
  • Chuck Pagano
  • Nick Saban
  • Dom Capers
  • Mike Zimmer
  • Mike Nolan
  • Dan Quinn
  • Todd Bowles

Notable Defensive Coaches whom Jonathan Gannon has worked with:

  • Jerry Gray
  • Mike Zimmer
  • George Edwards
  • Matt Eberflus

Notable Defensive Coaches whom Nick Rallis has worked with:

  • Mike Zimmer
  • Jonathan Gannon

Imagine the creativity and scheme diversity that George Edwards could add to the mix as a senior defensive advisor, especially coming straight from Todd Bowles’ defense.

Nick Rallis could remain the DC, while George Edwards could help him game plan and make play call and adjustment suggestions during the game.

When Jonathan Gannon vowed to the players that he was going to start from scratch this year, adding a senior defensive advisor could be a fantastic way to aid and abet that cause. George Edwards checks all the boxes, that is, if Michael Bidwill is willing to add Edwards to the payroll and Jonathan Gannon is willing to make what could be a pivotal phone call.

ROTB Poll:


Should Jonathan Gannon add a senior defensive advisor to his staff?

This poll is closed

  • 57%
    Yes, a veteran coach like Goerge Edwards looks like a great fit
    (111 votes)
  • 13%
    Yes, but I would prefer Mike Zimmer
    (26 votes)
  • 13%
    Not sure adding a senior defensive advisor is necessary
    (26 votes)
  • 14%
    No, Gannon and Rallis are more than capable on their own
    (28 votes)
  • 1%
    (3 votes)
194 votes total Vote Now

How did you vote? What are your thoughts?