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Week 7 Lookahead: Todd Bowles' quiet confidence fueling Jets

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When George Allen ran the Washington Redskins, he had a motto on each of the desks at the office:

"Is what you're doing now going to help us beat the Cowboys?"

The only problem, according to one of the people who worked there at the time, is managing the ups and downs depending on how those two games against Dallas went each season.

So Charley Casserly, that Washington employee who remembers Allen's focus on two games per year, is not surprised that Todd Bowles has taken an entirely different tact in New York, essentially flat-lining the run-up to the Jets' first game against the archrival New England Patriots this season. Bowles, after all, played for Joe Gibbs, one of Allen's successors in Washington who never agreed with the single-minded focus on one opponent, even one as familiar and potentially ruinous as the Cowboys were to the Redskins.

"Everybody in the building knows what the Patriots are to the Jets," Casserly said this week. "You can't play a two-game season. Whether he took that from Joe or figured it out for himself, that's the way you need to approach it.

"He's not intimidated by anything. He can talk to a player man to man, tell him what he thinks. He will not demean the player, but he is in no way intimidated by anybody. That's what you don't necessarily get if you don't get to know him. He's not a guy who talks for the sake of talking."

The quiet compared to the storm Rex Ryan used to create in preparation for the Patriots -- Ryan didn't kiss Bill Belichick's rings, but he sure talked about it a lot -- is also of a piece with the measured maturity Bowles has brought to the Jets in his first season. It is not just Bowles' brilliance as a defensive strategist that has turned the Jets so rapidly from a four-win team last season to one that has four wins in its first five games this season. (The Jets have the league's top defense in yards and points allowed, and it is allowing opponents to score on just 18 percent of their possessions -- the best in the league -- setting up a perfect matchup against the game's top scoring offense.)

But Bowles has already steered the Jets through a crucible far more fraught with danger than anything even the Patriots can present. In early August, when starting quarterback Geno Smith was punched by a teammate, breaking his jaw, Smith presented the news in a blunt news conference, in which he also condemned the childishness of the issue that led to the fight and made clear that Smith might not regain his job. The event had "same old Jets" written all over it -- until it disappeared because of the way Bowles put the fire out before it could spread. He instructed players to stop discussing it. And, after making his displeasure known when Smith was spotted throwing a football shortly after having surgery to repair his jaw, Bowles has stopped discussing it, too.

With his matter-of-factness -- "You don't get up or down for one game because it means you haven't been playing hard in the first place," the coach said -- Bowles has steadied a team that was used to the emotional peaks and valleys that accompany a coach like Ryan.

"I don't know whether they take on my personality or whether some of them are scared to backlash," Bowles said this week. "It's kind of a little of both, so I think they're starting to understand what it takes to try and win. We're trying to win ball games. We're not trying to win one ball game. We're trying to win them all. We never get too high or too low. We know it's a long season, a long process with injuries and everything else. I think we're starting to realize that."

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Bowles has a temper, say those who know him. But while he may display it to players, he does not show it in public. It is part of what made him so attractive to the Jets.

"As a player, what you see is what you get now," said Casserly, who advised the Jets on the search process that led to Bowles. "Very calm. Very smart. The smartest guy on the field. He can use just a few words to paint a picture. That was one of the things when we were looking at him. Tell me how you're going to defense this team. And he can give you three sentences."

Casserly tells stories about Bowles' development as a coach. Casserly watched him command a room of college coaches just a year ago, and had heard stories about how Bowles took control of Dolphins practices when he was the interim head coach there in 2011, giving the players an immediate vision of the style of play he was looking for by telling them specifically how often he intended to pass the ball.

Bowles' plans have worked out well so far, although Tom Brady is more than capable of quickly changing a narrative. The Patriots quarterback is 6-0 in his career when facing the top scoring and total defense this late in the season, with 13 touchdowns and five interceptions.

Still, from those who have known Bowles through his rise up the coaching ladder, there is confidence that the Bowles the Jets have seen so far is the coach they will see in any situation.

"I worked with a couple of coaches, and you could tell early on, you really had a feeling for the ... this guy is a leader of men," said Jason Taylor, the defensive end who was coached by Bowles in Miami. "Dan Quinn was one of those guys. Todd Bowles is another. I'm 41, but if Todd called tomorrow, I would go play for him."

Three more things to watch around the NFL in Week 7:

1) The Cowboys are starting their third quarterback of the season -- Matt Cassel --and are not likely to have receiver Dez Bryant back. They are 0-3 since Tony Romo got hurt in Week 2, and Cassel has, since 2011, been one of the least effective passers in the league. Still, the Cowboys could emerge Sunday night in first place in the NFC East. The Giants botched their late-game clock management to lose the first meeting in Dallas, but the presence of Greg Hardy makes the Dallas defense more menacing now than it was then -- the Cowboys sacked Tom Brady five times just two weeks ago. The Giants' offensive line had its worst outing against the Eagles on Monday night and protecting Eli Manning from pressure on the edges will be critical to allow the short passes that were so effective early against Philadelphia.

2) This is probably not the week to expect the Eagles offense to get itself together. The Panthers are allowing an opponent passer rating of just 68.8, second best in the NFL, 18.8 points per game and have 11 takeaways. The offense and Sam Bradford are the weakness of the Eagles, and Bradford has nine interceptions already. While the offense, particularly the running game, has been much better the last two weeks, Philly will have to get off to a much faster start. They have a minus-16 point differential in the first quarter, 29th in the league. The Eagles' defense is the team's strength and it is especially effective against tight ends, allowing just two touchdowns to TEs in their last 22 games. The Panthers' Greg Olsen has three touchdowns in his last three games.

Every game, all season

3) The Colts' fake punt fiasco lingered all the way to Wednesday, but the real question is whether they'll have a hangover from a devastating loss to the Patriots last week. Except for that play, the Colts mostly played better than expected against New England, and they seem to have learned from Matt Hasselbeck that the short, quick passing game is the best way to insulate Andrew Luck from pressure and perhaps reduce his turnovers. Luck has seven giveaways this season but he was much better against the Patriots, completing 60 percent of his passes for three touchdowns and no interceptions. The Saints' defense is giving up more than 400 yards per game, the most in the NFL, and the Colts have given up at least 400 yards in each of their last four games. This, then, has the makings of a Luck-Drew Brees shootout -- with a loss by the Saints likely ending their already slim postseason hopes and a loss by the Colts raising significant concerns about their ability to beat the better teams with top quarterbacks on their schedule.

Follow Judy Battista on Twitter @judybattista.

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