Can Bill Davis Lead the Cardinals Defense?

After parting ways with Clancy Pendergast last week, the Arizona Cardinals have reportedly found a new defensive coordinator. Pendergast's replacement is no other than Bill Davis, who will be promoted from his role as Cardinals linebackers coach. Davis certainly has pedigree and plenty of experience, but is he the right man for the job? Brad Wilbricht explains.

While it comes as no surprise that Bill Davis will reportedly become the new defensive coordinator in Arizona, it could be considered somewhat of a letdown. Rumors surfaced that Ken Whisenhunt was targeting Pittsburgh Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler. Butler would have been another fixture from the Steel City that Whisenhunt was able to lure to the desert. However, it apparently was not meant to be and Davis will be leading the Cardinals' defense in 2009.

Whisenhunt's hand may have been forced due to speculation that Davis might follow former Arizona offensive coordinator Todd Haley, who took over as the new head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs. After losing Haley and firing Clancy Pendergast, Arizona couldn't allow any further turnover within its coaching staff.

As a holdover from the Dennis Green era, Pendergast was a prime target to be let go. Furthermore, his defensive mentality is better suited for a 4-3 defense and Arizona had been utilizing a hybrid approach while completing their transition to the 3-4.

Despite the success that the Cardinals' defense enjoyed during the postseason, Pendergast's units were less than impressive during his five-year stint in Arizona. His best finish in total defense was eighth and the Cardinals ranked 19th or worse in three of his five seasons as defensive coordinator.

Davis has been an assistant coach for 17 seasons, 16 of those coming in the NFL. His father, Bill Davis Sr., was a coach in the NFL for 13 seasons. While Davis has the pedigree and an abundance of experience, one can't help but wonder why it took so long for him to get where he's at.

Like Whisenhunt, Davis is a firm believer in the 3-4 defense but his first attempt to implement the odd man front was nothing short of a disaster. Davis was brought in by Mike Nolan to lead the San Francisco 49ers transition from the 4-3. However, he was criticized for inconsistent play calling and was known for jumping between the 3-4 and 4-3 defensive fronts. This may not bode well for Davis, given that his predecessor wasn't retained for essentially the same reason.

Davis started his coaching career back in 1991 as a graduate assistant at Michigan St. Following one season in East Lansing, he made the leap to the professional ranks. From 1992-2004 Davis was a defensive assistant for six different NFL teams. In 2005, he secured his first coordinator position with the 49ers.

In San Francisco, Davis' stint as defensive coordinator was short lived and largely unsuccessful. The 49ers allowed a league worst 391 yards per contest and gave up 428 points during his first season. In 2006, San Francisco managed to improve to 26th in the NFL in total defense but was still a far cry from an efficient unit. They allowed 344 yards per game and continued to get lit up on the scoreboard, giving up 412 points.

Although the Cardinals' defense failed to perform up to standards in recent years, two areas they thrived in under Pendergast were forcing turnovers and rushing the passer.

Under Davis' direction, San Francisco ranked outside of the top-20 in the NFL in forced turnovers during both of his seasons in the Bay Area. In 2005, the 49ers mustered only 29 sacks, good for 28th in the league. The following season, San Francisco ranked 19th in the NFL after compiling 34 sacks. Additionally, the 49ers were inept in pass defense, giving up 276 yards per game through the air in 2005 and 232 yards per outing the following season.

Given the rapid advancement that many of the league's top assistant coaches have experienced, Davis' journeyman past may pose as a red flag. Not to mention when he finally made the jump from assistant to coordinator, his results were very unimpressive.

With Arizona in position to take control of the NFC West division, success on both sides of the ball will be a key factor in the team's future. With playmakers such as SS Adrian Wilson, DT Darnell Dockett and CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie already in place, the Cardinals' defense must continue to improve under Davis in order to build on 2008's Super Bowl campaign.


Questions or comments? Contact Brad Wilbricht at brad.wilbricht@gmail.com

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