The Buffalo Bills took substantial steps towards becoming an elite NFL defense during the 2013 season. If that trend is to continue moving forward, they’ll be doing so without defensive coordinator Mike Pettine.
The first coach hand-picked by Doug Marrone when he got the Bills head coaching job last January, Pettine is the new head coach of the Cleveland Browns. Pettine met with the Browns Tuesday for over four hours, his second interview before formally being offered and accepting the job Thursday after meeting with the team for a third time.
Pettine replaces Rob Chudzinski, who was unceremoniously dumped by the Browns after just one season.
Mary Kay Calbot from The Cleveland Plains Dealer first reported that the deal was done.
The team has confirmed the hire and called for a press conference at 4:45pm today.
“Mike is the epitome of what we want the Browns to be — tough, aggressive and innovative — with a blue-collar, team-first mentality.” Browns owner Jimmy Haslam said via Twitter.
Speaking with Bills.com, Marrone offered congratulations to Pettine.
“I want to take this opportunity to congratulate Mike on becoming the Browns new head coach and thank him for all of his time and efforts with our team this past season,” he said. “ He did an excellent job of improving our defense and we wish him the best.”
Before coming to Buffalo as defensive coordinator Pettine spent the previous four seasons in the same position with the New York Jets. However, that was with Rex Ryan as head coach and Ryan had enormous input with the defense. 2013 with the Bills was Pettine’s first year completely running the show and his variations of Buddy Ryan’s 46 defense was instantly effective.
Under Pettine in 2013 the Bills set a franchise-record with 57 sacks (good for second in the NFL) and had the second-most interceptions in the league with 23. Buffalo finished ranked in the top 10 defensively for the first time in a decade and three Bills (Mario Williams, Kyle Williams, Jairus Byrd) were sent to the Pro Bowl for the unit’s efforts while Marcell Dareus became the fourth, added as an injury replacement for San Francisco’s Justin Smith this week.
That’s not to say Buffalo’s defense was always dominant during Pettine’s one-and-done campaign with the Bills. The rush defense in particular was often dreadful; surrendering 128.9 yards per game on the ground to rank No. 28 in the league. Among their more dubious accomplishments were allowing career-rushing days to journeyman and/or marginal talents like Bilal Powell (149 yards), Bobby Rainey (127), LeGarrette Blount (189) and Jordan Todman (109).
Still, the pros far outweighed the cons with Pettine in charge of the defense. Football Outsider DVOA ratings ranked the Bills as having the fourth-best defense in the league overall and second-best against the pass. Buffalo ranked in the top four in the NL in net yards per pass attempt, completion percentage against (first in the league, actually), passer rating against and net yards surrendered per drive.
They probably would’ve, and still can better in 2014 with the addition of a quality run-stuffing linebacker. Rookie Kiko Alonso made a huge impact in his first season in the league but was often overmatched in the middle of the field when opponents ran the ball. You can expect him to improve in that facet of the game going forward.
General manager Doug Whaley, without naming anyone specifically has said he’s worked with Marrone on a contingency plan to replace Pettine should he leave for Cleveland. If the Bills stay in-house and assuming he doesn’t go with Pettine, defensive backs coach Donnie Henderson seems like the logical choice to take over as defensive coordinator.
Whoever takes over the Bills defense will be the team’s fourth coordinator in five years, as George Edwards stuck around for two seasons (2010-11) and Dave Wannstedt lasted just one (2012) prior to Pettine’s arrival last winter.
Interestingly enough this is the first time in 22 years a Bills coach went from being a coordinator to getting a head coaching gig elsewhere in the same offseason. Ted Marchibroda went from running the Bills offense to getting the head coaching job at Indianapolis in 1992.
‘We interviewed as many people as we could. From that group, we hired the best individual for this job.” Browns CEO Joe Banner commented via Twitter.
The Bills could very well recover from losing Pettine and have their defense be just fine, perhaps even better next season with a couple of new pieces. But make no mistake about it—this hurts the organization today.
**UPDATE** – It appears Pettine is looking to take at least one Buffalo coach with him
Bills LBs coach Jim O'Neil will be Mike Pettine's defensive coordinator in Cleveland if the Bills let him out of his contract, I'm told.
— Manish Mehta (@MMehtaNYDN) January 23, 2014