On Sunday, for the first time since he was a defensive coordinator at Grambling in 1999, Todd Bowles will be calling the plays as a defensive coordinator. But from watching Bowles on the practice field and in the press conference room, it's fairly apparent that there's a unique sense of calm about the new Eagles defensive coordinator.
"It's been a normal game plan week, with the addition of doing a little more," said Bowles in his first Thursday press conference as coordinator. "We watched film as a staff together; tried to break (the opponent) down just the same. As a coach, you try not to get too high or too low. It's always just getting your guys in position to play as hard as they can and then try to help them out when you can."
Bowles is still undecided as to whether he'll be coaching from the field or from the coach's box on Sunday. While that may not have a huge factor on the outcome of the game, it speaks to the unknown about a first-time coordinator taking over midseason. But Bowles doesn't believe that gives the Eagles an advantage this week over the Falcons.
"No, I don't think so," said Bowles. Falcons head coach "Mike [Smith] has been around football for a long time. I certainly didn't invent the game and I'm not going to reinvent the game. They have their core beliefs that they do and they've got a great quarterback and a great corps of receivers and running back. They're 6-0 and undefeated. You've just got to try to make sure you use due diligence to get your team ready to play hard and try to, hopefully, make the right calls at the right time.
"Every defense is going to have a base where they're going to be predictable," he said. "No matter what team you're on or what coach you have, everybody's going to have a scheme. Our scheme is the wide-nine. You know that going in. You play as hard as you can and you keep your base core and, game plan-wise, you try to adjust and tweak some things as you see fit, if that fits the game plan. If it doesn't, you always come back to your core. So, it's not as much as being predictable; it's just trying to get your playmakers in better position to make more plays. I don't think that's unpredictable or predictable. It's just getting to see what your guys can do best and letting them do it."
On the players' side, there is some comfort in working with a defensive coordinator who played in the NFL himself from 1986-1993.
"I think it's good any time former players come back and coach," said middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans. "I think that's always significant for me. I always looked up to former players that come back and also coach the game because know first-hand what, us as players, what we're going through, how to get through things, the demands of it. They know all the ins and outs of it.
"It's been good. Todd's a very smart coach. It's been good working with him. I feel like he's going to help us in out in what we're doing defensively and it's going to be interesting to see who things work out on Sunday."
While he downplays the goal of unpredictability, Bowles does admit that there's a significant focus on finishing games better. After closing out games in impressive fashion on end-of-game defensive drives in each of the Eagles' three wins this season, the defense surrendered leads late in back-to-back games, highlighted by the breakdown in the fourth quarter and overtime against the Detroit Lions.
There's no magic elixir for closing out games, Bowles said. In the end, it's on the players.
"We just have to have a better understanding and a better urgency to finish games and we've got to make sure we have, coaching-wise, that ability to make the calls to win the game," Bowles said. "Then, they have to go out and execute it.
"Some are born with it, some you have to practice it hard, some you have to get it out of. It's no different than coaching. We've got to get it out of ourselves and then we've got to get it out of the players. You preach it and preach it and coach it and coach it and teach it and teach it and you beat them until they're blue in the face and, hopefully, Sunday the results will be different."
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