Todd Bowles dealt a tough card in 2016

Dec 6, 2015; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets head coach Todd Bowles before the game against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 6, 2015; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets head coach Todd Bowles before the game against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports /

In his first season with the New York Jets, head coach Todd Bowles had a great debut year but heading into the upcoming season, he’s been dealt a tough card.

The New York Jets ended 2014 on a high note by winning their 4th game of the season by defeating the Miami Dolphins 37-24. Unfortunately for Rex Ryan, he was fired by the Jets the very next morning, which then began their search for a new head coach.

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The search for a new head coach ended on January 14th, 2015 when Todd Bowles, whom was coming off a very successful stint as defensive coordinator with the Arizona Cardinals, was signed to a four-year deal.

In 2015, Bowles did not disappoint, immediately having to deal with controversy as IK Enemkpali broke the jaw of then starting quarterback Geno Smith by punching him in the face over a rumored $600 debt he refused to pay back.

Bowles had his usual low key and no nonsense demeanor when on display immediately as he quickly named Ryan Fitzpatrick the starting quarterback, which Fitzpatrick never relinquished. After an offseason where NFL experts predicted the Jets to be mediocre at best, they won ten games and though they came up a game short of making the playoffs, they looked to have had built a foundation for the 2016 season.

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With the loss of Damon Harrison, an unhappy Muhammad Wilkerson, and an unsigned Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Jets have proven to be their own worst enemy.

Are the odds stacked against Bowles to make it all come together?

Can he possibly lead the Jets to an appearance in the playoffs?

Bowles played in the NFL as a safety for eight seasons.

After his playing career was over, Bowles has had various coaching roles on the defensive side of the football including a successful run as defensive coordinator of the Arizona Cardinals from 2013-2014, so it comes as no surprise that defense was top priority for him.

Bowles implemented his 3-4 defensive scheme. The Jets signed Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie and Buster Skrine, instantly improving their defensive secondary, but it was the play of the defensive line that impressed.

The Jets were second in the NFL in total rushing yards allowed, and fourth overall in total yards allowed. The Jets’ defense against the run was stingy, and Harrison/Wilkerson were huge reasons for this.

Nicknamed “Snacks”, Harrison feasted on running backs who dare try to run by him, and when they tried to run around Harrison, Wilkerson was there waiting to wrap up the ball carrier. Harrison started all 16 games in 2015 and accumulated 72 tackles plus forced a fumble.

Wilkerson was just as effective. He too started all 16 games accumulating 64 tackles, 12 sacks, and even deflected seven passes. Unfortunately for Wilkerson, he did break his leg during that abysmal Week 17 loss to the Buffalo Bills.

The Jets utilized their franchise tag on Wilkerson, but he is looking for a long-term deal, and as it stands now is very unhappy with the lack of progress in current contract negotiations. There is also the fact that Wilkerson is a very big man and broke his leg.

Jan 3, 2016; Orchard Park, NY, USA; New York Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson (96) is helped off the field as head coach Todd Bowles looks on during the second half against the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Bills beat the Jets 22-17. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

There is no guarantee he can still be the ferocious defensive end we all have come to love watching on a weekly basis during the NFL season. As for Harrison, he was offered a deal he couldn’t refuse. He signed with the New York Giants for $46M over the next five seasons with $24M of that guaranteed.

The Jets did draft a linebacker in the 2016 NFL Draft in Darron Lee out of Ohio State in the first round, so they will be relying on both him, and the reliable David Harris to pick up some of the slack lost on the front line. But asking for this defense to duplicate the success from the previous season, may be asking too much. Bowles does have a great track record on defense, so we will find out how he addresses these challenges.

Due to standoff between the Jets management and Fitzpatrick, who set a team record by throwing 31 touchdowns last season, it appears likely Bowles will be stuck penciling Smith in as starting quarterback.

It’s hard to imagine 31 NFL teams being jealous of the Jets’ quarterback depth chart which includes Smith, Bryce Petty and the Jets second round pick from the draft, Christian Hackenberg.  Smith’s track record speaks for itself,  whether it be skipping team meetings to catch a movie, stiffing teammates out of money or his awful play on the field, Smith has proven himself to be far too immature to be a reliable option at quarterback.

The Jets management have done a great job making Fitzpatrick the villain, because he has the nerve to expect a reasonable offer. Wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker, both of which had big seasons with Fitzpatrick throwing the ball to them, have both openly stated how important it is to bring Fitzpatrick back.

The Jets continue to justify their ridiculous behavior by openly bragging about how “great” Smith looks in organized team activities.  Well this is terrific, he is throwing the ball well against no pass rush, in perfect non-pressure filled circumstances.

Hopefully the makers of the Madden NFL 2017 video game have read the headlines about Smith’s summer success and have updated his rating to a 99 overall. In fact, with the way the Jets management and fans are all of a sudden talking Smith up, I believe EA Sports may want to make every attribute for Smith a 99, except for his chin of course.

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This whole situation with Fitzpatrick is truly ridiculous, and unfair to Bowles. The Jets have a pretty solid roster, but with Harrison gone, Wilkerson unhappy and the Jets willingness to stiff Fitzpatrick out of a reasonable contract, it is going to be a long season for Bowles in his sophomore year as head coach. If he is able to bring this team to the playoffs with their current quarterback situation, then he is your 2016 NFL Head Coach of the year.