Buffalo Bills head coach Doug Marrone acted aggressively in finding his top two lieutenants.
Aggressiveness figures to be a signature of Marrone’s defense, now that he has hired Mike Pettine from the New York Jets as new coordinator.
The Jets have been one of the best teams in the NFL at pressuring the quarterback and creating havoc in the passing pocket under Pettine and head coach Rex Ryan the past four seasons.
Pettine, 46, reached an agreement on a deal with the Bills on Wednesday, according to league sources and numerous media reports. He joins the Bills a day after Nate Hackett agreed to leave Syracuse University to rejoin Marrone as offensive coordinator in Buffalo.
The Bills had one of the least aggressive defenses last season, rarely blitzing the quarterback and relying primarily on the four down linemen to create pressure.
Those days appear to be over.
“It’s a great hire for Buffalo because one thing he’s going to do is attack the weaknesses of your team,” said former Jet Damien Woody, who played his last two seasons with Ryan and Pettine. “First, you take away from a divisional opponent by hurting the Jets’ coaching staff. Second, that Jets defense has had some success against the top dog in the division, the Patriots. They’ve orchestrated some defenses that have given Tom Brady problems.”
Pettine — pronounced PET-in — has learned the pressure game while working with Ryan the past 10 years, six in Baltimore and the past four with the Jets. Ryan called most of the defensive signals on game day in 2009. Since then, it has been a collaboration between Ryan and Pettine, according to Ryan. Ryan has indicated Pettine called the vast majority of the plays in 2011.
The Jets’ defense was good all four years. Starting in 2009, the Jets ranked first, third, fifth and eighth, respectively, in yards allowed.
The Jets have been masters of the “overload blitz,” in which they send more rushers on one edge of the offensive line than can be blocked. While New York has ranked among the top 10 in sacks only once in the past four years, it has excelled at creating pressure and forcing the quarterback to unload quickly for measly gains underneath the coverage.
“If you want to know the key to that defense, it’s the secondary,” Woody said. “If those guys can cover, it allows Mike Pettine to draw those exotic blitzes. That’s one thing you really haven’t seen from Buffalo. It hasn’t been an exotic-type blitz team. That’s what you’re going to see out of Buffalo, but you need guys who can cover.”
The Jets’ defense has ranked in the top four in the NFL in terms of lowest completion percentage allowed four straight seasons. The Jets have ranked in the top six in terms of lowest yards per pass attempt allowed four straight years. They have ranked among the top seven in terms of lowest passer rating allowed.
A lot of the Jets’ pressures are not with five or six men. They’re with four. New York, however, does a better job than most teams at making offenses unsure of which four are rushing.
New York rushed five men third most in the league in 2010 and 13th most in 2011, according to Football Outsiders. The Jets’ blitz percentages were 46 percent and 30 percent those two seasons. The Bills’ blitz percentage was just 20 percent in 2011 and less than 20 percent in 2012, according to News figures. Buffalo was one of the least blitzing teams in the NFL each of the past three seasons under coach Chan Gailey.
The Jets’ outstanding cornerback tandem of Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie gave Ryan and Pettine a lot of flexibility in being aggressive when needed.
Pettine has employed a 3-4 base scheme his entire career. It usually was not a two-gap defense, like the Bills used with massive nose tackle Ted Washington. It was a one-gap scheme. However, the Jets used some 4-3 fronts in virtually every game. They also mixed in a “46” front, a pressure defense that puts eight men near the line of scrimmage.
But because so many teams use multiple receivers, the three-lineman, four-linebacker front might be used only 30 percent of the snaps or less. The Jets, in fact, used six and seven defensive backs more than most teams. Pettine liked to employ a three-safety nickel package a lot.
Pettine’s contract with New York ran out after the season.
“You know Mike Pettine’s going to be hungry because he wanted to get out of the shadow of Rex and prove himself,” Woody said.
“Ultimately, he wants to be a head coach. ... A lot of people assume that it’s all Rex, and Rex is the mastermind. But Pettine had a lot of input. He knows that defense just as well as Rex does.”
New York media already were speculating that Pettine could target Jets free-agent defensive tackle Mike DeVito and likely cap casualties Calvin Pace (a linebacker) and Eric Smith (a safety).
The New York Daily News reported that Jets assistant secondary coach Jim O’Neil would be joining Pettine in Buffalo. O’Neil, 34, spent the past four years with the Jets.
However Pettine’s scheme plays out, there will be some major adjustments for the Bills’ players. Pettine’s tactics are nothing like those of defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt, who relied on a static four-man rush and heavy use of zone coverages.