Green Bay’s new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine got his chance to be a head coach for one reason: he was a very successful defensive coordinator with the Jets from 2009 through 2012, and with the Bills in 2013.
Pettine was given but two years as head coach to turn the Cleveland Browns around. He was unsuccessful, but by no means was he disgraced. He inherited a team that had gone six consecutive years without winning more than five games in a season. Pettine went 7-9 in 2014 and fell back to 3-13 in 2015. Since departing, the Browns have gone 1-15 and 0-16 under Hue Jackson.
It’s clear from his comments to the Green Bay press that the experience at Cleveland was a horror – so bad that it caused him to step away from coaching for two years.
It might be that head coaching isn’t what Pettine is best suited for anyway. He’s said as much, indicating he didn’t care for all of the administrative duties that a head coach has.
I believe him when he says he’s perfectly content with being a defensive coordinator. His record in that role suggests he’s very well suited to being the Packers’ replacement for Dom Capers.
The following chart shows how Pettine’s defenses have ranked in total yards given up, rushing yards, passing yards, and points allowed for his five prior seasons as a defensive coordinator. I’ve included the last two years of Packers’ statistics.
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As a basis for comparison, in the year before Pettine became the Jets’ DC, the team ranked 16th, 7th, 29th, and 18th in the above four categories. In the year before he became the Bills’ DC, that team was 22nd, 31st, 10th, and 26th in these categories.
The improvement in the Jets’ defense in Pettine’s first year was miraculous. The numbers slipped a bit in Pettine’s next three years, though passing yards allowed remained top-notch. Coordinating a defense never ranked below sixth, for five years running, in defending against the pass is a great accomplishment – and it’s precisely what the Packers so badly need.
During his four years with the Jets, the cumulative passer rating of opposing passers was a sparkling 71.0, best in the NFL.
In his sole year in Buffalo, he improved the team’s defense in all four categories, but most notably in moving their passing yards allowed from 10th to fourth place in the league.
In his defensive backfields with the Jets, Pettine had the good fortune to work with, and help develop, Darrelle Revis – a seven-time Pro-Bowler, and four-time first-team All-Pro. For three of those years, he also had cornerback Antonio Cromartie, a four-time Pro Bowler. While at Buffalo, he had free safety Jarius Byrd, a three-time Pro Bowler. Revis was truly a “shutdown” cornerback when Pettine was with the Jets.
As to defensive linemen, he worked with DE Shaun Ellis (two-time PB) with the Jets, and with DT Kyle Williams (five-time PB), DE Mario Williams (four-time PB), and DT Marcell Dareus (two-time PB) in his year at Buffalo.
In comparison, Dom Capers had these star backfield defenders: Charles Woodson (nine-time PB), Sam Shields (2014 PB), and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (2016 PB). His star linebackers included Clay Matthews (six-time PB), and Julius Peppers (nine-time PB, including in 2015 with the Packers). Woodson and Peppers were of course developed by other teams.
Pettine has indicated that the cupboard is hardly bare at Green Bay. He’s probably thinking mostly of young guys like Damarious Randell, Kevin King, Josh Jones, Blake Martinez, Jake Ryan, and Kenny Clark – and let’s not forget Montravius Adams. It will be intriguing to see how many of these players will become stars under Pettine – and how quickly.
Great First Impression
My initial impressions of Mike Pettine are uniformly positive. He’s obviously a student of defensive strategy, and he communicates plainly and to the point. While he has an “instructor” air about him, I don’t doubt that he’ll demand a high degree of on-field performance from his players. He appeared comfortable and confident when introduced at Lambeau Field along with the rest of the Packers’ new coaches.
In his nine years in Green Bay, I never once saw a trace of emotion in Dom Capers. Pettine, after being fiery head coach Rex Ryan’s right-hand man for a bunch of years with the Ravens and the Jets, should be a welcome departure from Capers’ aloof demeanor.
Pettine seems re-energized after a two-year sabbatical, and it looks like he’s thrilled to have this opportunity.
I’ve viewed photos of Pettine on the sidelines during Jets’ and Bills’ games, so I trust he’ll be in the same place with the Packers. I always thought that Capers – stationed up in the booth during games – was too far away from the action and unable to communicate face-to-face with his players.