Friday, January 24, 2014

Pettine leftovers

Mike Pettine has been credited with transforming the Buffalo Bills’ defense in just one season. Into what is not clear. So let’s take a closer look at that transformation.

The new Browns coach took over a defense in Buffalo last season that was similar in many ways to the Browns’. Like Ray Horton’s scheme, it was a 3-4 hybrid with multiple fronts. It was an attacking defense, designed to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks from all points on the field.

With Pettine's arrival, the Buffalo defense improved from 22nd overall in 2012 to 10th (fourth vs. the pass, 28th against the run) last season. The Browns under Horton rose from 23rd overall in 2012 to ninth in 2013. A parallel journey for both clubs.

The Bills’ defense, like the Browns’, really didn’t shut anyone down last season. Every team on the schedule scored at least 20 points on that defense, which permitted 24.2 points a game (22.5 net when factoring in opposition touchdowns on defense and special teams). The Browns were at 25.4 (23.6 net).

The Buffalo defense stood out in three areas, all related to the pass. The Bills ranked second in the National Football League in sacks with 57 and interceptions with 23 and allowed just 5.9 yards per completion, best in the league. A statistical oddity: the fourth-ranked pass defense allowed 28 touchdowns.

As well as the Bills played the pass, they faltered against the run, permitting 129 yards a game. Sounds like the Cleveland run defense before Horton arrived. Pettine’s desire to put the quarterback on his back had a deleterious effect against the run.

Sort of falls in line with the tough and aggressive approach he plans on bringing the Cleveland defense, which is trying to shed its label of being considered somewhat soft. The Browns dramatically improved their run defense last season, but fell far short against the pass.

Other notable Pettine stats with Buffalo include a respectable 37.1% conversion rate on third downs. The Browns permitted opposing teams to convert 44,7% of the time on that critical down. Getting off the field proved extremely difficult last season.

The best you can say about the results in Buffalo (and Cleveland) was it was mediocre. Nothing embarrassing, but nothing great.

So how does all that impact Pettine’s new job? It doesn’t. He is now the head coach and that’s a brand new ballgame, something he’ll discover once they play games. Being the head coach is a whole different animal than being a coordinator.

A coordinator concentrates on a singular aspect of the game. That’s his job, his main responsibility.  A head coach oversees the entire program. From time management to thinking at least three or four plays ahead of what’s actually going on to making the tough decisions in crunch time, he’s the supreme boss.

A head coach determines the philosophy of and sets the culture for the team in every aspect of the game. He sets the tone. Pettine will find out just how difficult it is to juggle calling defenses, which he said he would do next season, with running the entire team. Very few coaches have been able to do that successfully. Many more have failed.
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There was a recurring theme throughout Pettine’s first dalliance with the Cleveland media. Tough was the main theme.

“This team is going to be built on toughness,” he said, then spoke about teams that talk themselves into losing. “That, to me, is the culture that needs to be changed here. We’re going to build a team not just physically tough, but also mentally.”

Added owner Jimmy Haslam III, “I think he’s perfect, He’s tough. He’s hard-nosed. But let’s face it, he has to win games.”

And the best quote of the news conference by Pettine: “To compete in the AFC North, you have to be willing to bloody your nose a little bit. That’s the mentality we’re going to take here. This team is going to be built on toughness.”

He talks tough. Let’s see if it transitions to the field. On the surface, though, it looks as though big boy football is returning to Cleveland.
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First impression of Pettine: He’s a no-nonsense guy who will inject a strict discipline into the Browns. How intractable he is, however, can be a mitigating factor with the players. Watching Greg Schiano self-destruct in Tampa Bay the last two seasons should be a valuable lesson.

The way he talks, Pettine appears to be that type of coach. Schiano lost his job because he attempted to run a tight ship following the loose regime of his predecessor, Raheem Morris. It was too tight and backfired.

“The atmosphere . . . was real tense,” Buccaneers cornerback Darelle Revis told the Tampa Bay Times recently at the Pro Bowl in Honolulu. “Guys didn’t like coming to work. That’s one of the things you have to have, a stress-free atmosphere and environment.

“You’re going to get everything out of everybody if it’s stress free and let people be who they are. I wish he would have listened to some of the players a little bit more, especially the veterans and some of the older guys.”

If Pettine wants toughness from his team and keep the lines of communication open, he has to walk a fine line between soliciting that toughness and being flexible. He has to make coming to work, as Revis said, an enjoyable experience.
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Brian Billick, the former Ravens coach who brought Pettine into the NFL as a video assistant in 2002, wondered what took the Browns so long to hire him.

“The thing you wonder about,” he said, “I understand you have to go through a process, but you could have hired Mike on Jan. 3 (five days after the Rob Chudzinski firing) and had a leg up on putting together a staff.”

Tell that to Haslam and Joe Banner.
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Speaking of Haslam, the Cleveland owner fell back on an old reliable when discussing the national perception of the 25-day struggle to find Chudzinski’s successor. Rather than turning the blame inward, he blamed, ta da, the media. Yep, it’s the media’s fault he and Banner took nearly a month to name a new coach.

“I think that’s the perception you all have generated,” Haslam said. “That’s not the perception among the (coaching) candidates, that’s not the perception among football people I talk to around the country. This perception that’s been created out there is not reality.”

If that wasn’t the perception, why then did it take so long to find the new coach? In this case, despite Haslam’s protestations, perception indeed was reality.

(The preceding note was originally written about Banner and has been changed to reflect the views of Haslam, not the club's CEO. Apologies to Banner for incorrectly linking his name to those quotes.)
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Pettine said he was impressed by “a leadership group committed to winning, a young roster, plenty of cap space, a deep draft, plenty of picks.

But why not wait until next year when more opportunities will arise? “I don’t know if I believe in that,” he said. “I look at this situation, when you put all the factors together, this franchise is in position, given the right leadership, to win.” He's saying all the right things.
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There will always be a lingering impression that good timing is what landed Pettine the Cleveland job. Good timing for Pettine and bad timing for Seattle’s Dan Quinn.

Because the Seahawks defensive coordinator was tied up with the Super Bowl and couldn’t be signed until after the big event, and the Browns were in a hurry to get a new coach, Quinn will have to wait until next year to become a head coach.

We’ll never know for certain, but Quinn just might have been favored over Pettine by the Cleveland front office and the need to form a coaching staff now took precedence. The longer the Browns waited to name their new coach, the more difficult it would have been to assemble a staff.
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Hopefully, Pettine lasts more than one season. And hopefully, the Browns never again conduct a coaching search like this. Its interminable length only added to the embarrassment that seeps out of Berea on a daily basis.

Next time, at least have a plan in place if you’re going to fire a coach. If the Browns had known it would have been this difficult to get a new head coach, they might have thought twice about firing Chudzinski.
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So did the Browns improve themselves with this hire? The optimist says what have they got to lose. The pessimist says wait and see. I belong to the latter group. Shocking, I know. We've seen too many failures for the last 15 seasons. I need solid proof. 

We do know they hired a man whose defensive philosophy is a mirror image of the former defensive coordinator. And they are wandering aimlessly on offense because the new guy has never in is career had anything to do with that side of the ball.

But if Pettine wins at least six games in the upcoming season, that will be considered progress considering the Browns haven’t won that many games in a season since 2007, when they shocked the NFL and won 10. That’s not too much to ask, is it?


  1. Give 'em Hell, Rich! Why anyone is thinking "Yaaaay, it's over" is beyond even my most negative of negative thoughts. Nothing's changed, no matter how great of a fella he may turn out to be. BAD F.O. and I've no doubt in my fevered mind that this upcoming draft will just be more proof for the puddin'. Hope he works out, he seems like a genuine good guy. But, so did the last one. BAD F.O.

    1. With 10 draft picks, Elf, this will be the litmus test that proves one way or the other whether these guys actually know what they are doing.

  2. Is it finally off your chest yet? Is it time to get back to business?

  3. Replies
    1. Not you. Unknown. I know who you are.

  4. You attributed the "media's fault" quotes to Banner. That was Haslam who said that garbage, which is even worse coming from the owner instead of one of his toadies.

  5. You are correct. My mistake. I completely screwed that up and will make the change. Thanx whoever you are.