I posted this over in the defensive changes thread but it also applies here. I'm now a huge proponent of Pettine, and if that catches on around here I'd better get the credit for it
I saw this in Keim's article about Pettine interviewing:
I gotta say, I really hope that Pettine is our guy. I'd like to see him coaching guys McC picks. I really liked this from the article. Long read but worth it:
So back to the defense, which will have a big say in the final result of Pettine’s first season. As a football junkie, this is the real reason I traveled to Berea. I have loved watching the Ryan-Pettine scheme operate, especially against the best quarterbacks in the game. There’s no better scheme in today’s NFL. Just go look at what the Jets have done since Ryan’s arrival, what Pettine did in Buffalo last year, and what former Jets assistant Bob Sutton did with the Chiefs last season. When I watch the system operate on the coaches film cut, I see organized chaos. Every pre-snap look is different from the ensuing coverage and pressure on the play. That messes with the best quarterbacks, who are elite because they win before the snap deciphering the defensive scheme they are about to encounter.
But how does a defensive coach get his players to do that? How will Pettine and defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil be able to get the Browns up to speed in their first season? Surely it’s way too complicated for that to happen.
Not the way Pettine and O’Neil teach it, which seems to be the key to the system.
“I think it's happened quicker here because I think it's a smart group,” Pettine says, comparing the install to last season’s with the Bills. “I'm not saying we were dumb in Buffalo—far from it—but this is a group that I think processes, as a whole, very quickly.”
The way Pettine teaches has a lot do with that.
It starts with the coaches. The players can’t learn unless the coaches know it inside and out. O’Neil, linebacker coach Chuck Driesbach, assistant linebackers coach Brian Fleury and defensive line coach Anthony Weaver are all veterans of the system, at least back to Buffalo. Assistant defensive backs coaches Bobby Babich and Aaron Glenn, and secondary coach Jeff Hafley, were new to the system. Before the players arrived in the building, O’Neil installed the scheme with the coaches using five years of teaching tape (the best execution of scheme and technique from the Jets and Bills). But there was a lot of give and take, and the newcomers were free to question the whys and hows of the scheme.
“They were able to refine it even more and make it more player-friendly from the beginning,” Pettine says. “I think anytime you can install anew, if you can step back instead of just blowing the dust off, here it is, to look at it again and see if it still continues to make sense—they did a good job.”
When it comes to teaching the players the scheme, one of the tenets is the sponge theory, which Pettine learned from his father, Mike Pettine Sr., the retired legendary high school football coach at Central Bucks West in Pennsylvania.
“It's your job as a coach to keep throwing stuff at them and at some point, you'll get feedback,” Pettine says. “But you're going to have teams, like the 2006 Ravens defense, that had almost like an infinite sponge. We could have 60 calls up on game day, it doesn't matter. Those guys Ed [Reed], Ray [Lewis], Adalius [Thomas], Jarret Johnson—those guys could handle anything you threw at them. If your team's cumulative sponge isn't big, then you might have to back it off a little bit. I think sponge-wise, we're pretty smart. We already have some advanced stuff very quickly. But there's some coaches that each year, teach, This what we run and that's it. They don't ask more of their guys. To me that's coaching. If your guys can do more and you’re not doing more, that's on you. Or if this is your norm and you have a pretty good team and they're just not mentally there, then [expletive] pare it back a little bit.”
Pettine has also continued the learning buddy system that goes back to his days as a Ravens assistant. A smarter player will be paired with a player who is not learning the system as quickly. The smarter player will get the minus if his buddy screws up on the play.
“One of the rules we had was you never wanted to be limited by your least intelligent player,” Pettine says. “You have to do it that way because if you have a guy that can be elite but he can't be cluttered, like when we got Kris Jenkins in New York for a limited amount of time—when we had him, we didn't want him thinking. We would build it like, 'Hey, line up here and go, and we'll make it right around you.' We'll give the thinking to the guys around you. We've put some of the heavy-lifting thinking on a fewer number of players.”
Thomas was one of those guys in Baltimore. David Harris was the guy with the Jets. Safety Jim Leonhard traveled from the Ravens to the Jets to the Bills because nobody knew the scheme better than he did.
When it comes to teaching the players, it starts with giving each player an inventory of techniques specific to their position. For example, corners will learn how to play press coverage, man coverage with safety help, playing inside-outside with another player, squat coverage for Cover 2, and so forth. Each player has his own inventory so when he hears the defense being called, he only needs to know two things: how do I get lined up, and what’s my technique?
“Then you hope that the coaches have meshed together those 11 jobs so that you have a functional defense,” Pettine says. “Our big saying is, ‘Do your job, good things will happen.’ So we keep them very narrow-minded on, ‘Do your job first.’ A lot of mistakes are made when you're wanting to do somebody else’s job.”
When it comes to executing the defense on game day, this is where the real genius of the scheme comes into play, because it allows the unit to appear more multiple and confusing to the quarterback. The chaos, however, plays out as clarity in the minds of the defensive players.
The Browns teach the concept of the scheme. For example, with the dime defense, they don’t just tell a player, “This is the dime and this is your job every time we play it.” Initially, they will install the base system and the responsibilities. But then they’ll rotate jobs after a week. So the scheme is the same, but the personnel changes. If the Browns are in dime one week and linebacker Karlos Dansby is rushing in a certain gap, it might be a different player with that responsibility in the next game. That happens throughout that dime defense. Cornerbacks switch with linebackers, linebackers swap with linemen and corners become safeties. Chaos to a quarterback.
“For our guy it's easy, and that's the business that we want to be in, something that's easy for us to do, that's hard for the other side to decipher,” Pettine says. “If you're a quarterback that figures out your protection by players, jersey numbers, and now you're trying to identify our stuff, now you're in trouble. We might run the same pressure three weeks in a row, and it's going to look different three times. We have a defensive back doing an end’s job; the next week it’s a different grouping with a linebacker doing it. So to somebody else it's going to look completely different, but for us it's the exact same call.”
When it comes to the season, the players aren’t just looking at a playbook with a position against that opponent. The playbook for each opponent has defensive players’ jersey numbers in it. They just look through the playbook for their number and know their assignment that week. And by switching roles, that allows the players to buy in.
“If I have a job that's crappy—late contain on the quarterback, that type of thing, I'm a little more likely to have a pretty good attitude doing it because I know next week I might have a job that could potentially be the free runner,” Pettine says of players’ mindsets. “Now they say, ‘OK, I'll do the dirty job this week, knowing that later I'll get the better job.’ ”
The final part of the puzzle is to have the entire defense in the meeting room together. It’s few and far between when positions break up, go to their own room and worry about themselves, like most teams operate.
“I thought that was one thing that Rex did real well. He kind of tied in the whole room,” Pettine says. “After a while, he'd ask a defensive lineman a question about the cornerback’s technique to see if the guy had been paying attention. It’d be funny to see how much guys would recall in situations like that. Learn the defense as a whole and you execute as one cohesive unit.”
For all those that say scheme to your talent, here you go.