Pettine, the current roster, and what the team needs to do in the offseason to be successful.
by Nicholas Cicale (@nickcicale)
As a Jets fan I know a bit about new Browns Head Coach Mike Pettine. He came to the Jets as defensive coordinator under Rex Ryan in New York, the Jets went to two AFC Championships, relying heavily on their hard-hitting defense to get there. At the time, it was hard to say exactly how much of their defensive success was due to Pettine or Rex Ryan. However, when he left the Jets for the Bills last season, Pettine proved he was great on his own. The Bills went from being ranked 22nd in the league on total defense, to the top ten under Pettine, and despite his calm domineer, showed he takes after Rex in terms of scheme.
Pettine’s hiring makes a lot of sense on the defensive side of the ball, where the Browns have been good in previous years, but have struggled late in games. Pettine will try to take the unit to the next level. He and the team are set up for an easy transition; The Browns base 3-4 defense from 2013 won’t have to change, and has more talent than Pettine’s previous unit in Buffalo.
Pettine runs an attacking 3-4, using a mix of exotic blitzes and drop coverages with his linebackers to get opposing QBs to hesitate and forces them out of the pocket. He then relies on his ends and outside backers to get the sack. Cleveland has a strong linebacker group with a lot of potential. Their first round pick from last season Barkevious Mingo has the tools to be a prototype player for this scheme, and if he develops into a starter, Pettine can move the slower, more versatile Paul Kruger to the middle. The combination of Phil Taylor and Ahtyba Rubin on the defensive line make this a stout unit against the run.
The key to this defense, however, will be whether or not Pettine’s secondary can use man-to-man coverage. Joe Haden will look to play the old Derelle Revis role, locking down an opponent’s top receiving option. The Browns are however in desperate need of a reliable second corner. TJ Ward is a nice fit at strong safety, and even though there is a need at the other safety position, it’s not a must.
Changing the offensive side of the ball will be more of a challenge for the Browns. If we assume he takes after Rex more often than not, Pettine will rely on his dominating D and controlling time of possession by running the ball. Obviously the Browns’ biggest need is QB, but having a reliable offensive line and confident running backs will be important in that player’s development.
The offensive line is good, not great, with All-Stars at center and left tackle, but young, inconsistent talent everywhere else. The addition of a veteran guard with average skills in the offseason could be a big help to a group that’s really only one player away. The running back group the Browns have in place, however, is another story. None of the runners from last season, minus possibly the more versatile Chris Ogbonnaya, deserve a spot on the roster. Drafting a reliable down hill runner at some point in the draft is a must, and the team needs to find an old-school blocking fullback. A speed/receiving back that would fit the mold of a kick returner would also help open the field, but isn’t necessary right now.
The two bright spot on the offensive side of the ball are Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron. Gordon became one of the most dominating receivers in 2013, and can stretch the field and open up running lanes no matter who’s playing quarterback. Cameron has reliable hands and is the perfect fit for a young quarterback. He’ll be called on every game in the red zone and on third downs.
The hiring of Pettine brings a positive outlook to the Browns on the defensive side of the ball for next season. He should be able to bring the Browns from a top ten defense, into the top five. The success of the offense will rely more on offseason acquisitions, and not the new scheme that comes in.
Biggest Team Needs
- Power Running Back
- Man-To-Man Cornerback
- Tall wide receiver
- Free Safety