Learning about Coach Pettine from “Collision Low Crossers”
After finishing up the book by Nicholas Dawidoff, there were a few takeaways that can be applied going forward. After Rex Ryan, defensive coordinator (at that time) Mike Pettine was mentioned more regularly than any other Jets’ personnel by the author. Obviously, there are differences between that 2011 franchise and the 2014 Cleveland Browns, but two constants were the aforementioned coach and now current defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil. Despite back-to-back AFC Championship game appearances, the Jets took a step back in the time that Dawidoff was working inside the franchise. Let’s review a few issues that can hopefully be eliminated from Cleveland.
The Defense’s attitude about the offense divided the locker room
The author mentioned time and again that the 2011 New York Jets felt like two separate teams – an offense and a defense. With good reason, the defense (who enjoyed great success over multiple seasons) felt they were dominant enough to win contests alone, and all the offense had to do was not lose the game. However, this feeling led to negative words and actions directed towards the offense. A divided team like that will not likely be able to function properly; this was the case for the Jets. Pettine (in the book) debated bringing that problem up with Ryan, but opted not to go over his boss’s head. In 2014, the defensive-minded leader should now be able to get a sense of how the team interacts and extinguish any possible issues. If losses occur due to one side of the ball failing, there will no doubt be hard feelings. But the Browns’ locker room should be nothing like the one Pettine was a part of three years ago.
Several personalities did not foster any sort of cohesion
There were two main culprits for this; one of the offense and the other on defense. Santonio Holmes was concerned more with his individual statistics than his unit or team’s overall success. Clearly, this was unproductive and further harmed the struggling offense. Likewise, Antonio Cromartie’s failure to accept criticism in team meetings was a thorn in his defensive coordinator’s side. Despite the fact that these are the largest rosters in professional sports, each member (players and coaches) must be on the same page and work towards the common goal. As it stands, I do not see any “selfish” athletes on the roster – but that is subject to change, unfortunately. The players seem to want to improve and understand what it takes to be a solid professional. Should any rookie or veteran get out of line, I anticipate Pettine to use his experience in New York to guide his roster.
Dysfunction lingers within an NFL team
This is an expansive area that could rear its head in Cleveland; with any luck Pettine can minimize it. In 2011, it was rather evident that few felt hopeful when Mark Sanchez was under center. He was specifically instructed to take sacks and not force passes among several defenders. The lack of confidence at the most important position in sports did not go unnoticed. Will the Browns give the reins to a rookie signal caller this season? There’s a reasonable chance that will be the case – the coaching staff must excel at providing positive support behind this quarterback. Additionally, the general manager (at the time) Mike Tannenbaum pulled rank and selected Scotty McKnight in the seventh round of the draft. This was to the chagrin of the team’s scouts and head coach, who all felt the wide receiver (who was a childhood friend of Sanchez) was not worthy of being drafted. As a result, there was animosity and the author mentioned contempt within the franchise (even months later). The 2014 Draft is critical for the Browns and all members, from Ray Farmer to entry-level scouts, cannot have friction during or after the first weekend in May.
Conclusion: Coach Mike Pettine is a knowledgeable, experienced leader who has seen a fair share of athletes since joining the NFL in 2001. I expect him to flush out some of the problems he has seen while being the defensive coordinator in New York. That’s not to say this year’s Browns will be dominant or Super Bowl-caliber, but hopefully they can have an edge on teams who are dealing with these kinds of issues.