Breaking Down Mike Pettine (Part 1)

What can new Bills Defensive Coordinator Mike Pettine do to make the Bills defense better in 2013? (Photo: US Presswire)

By BBD Editor Matthew Elder

A few weeks ago the Buffalo Bills announced that former New York Jets Defensive Coordinator Mike Pettine would be joining new coach Doug Marrone’s staff. From my perspective this was exactly what the Bills needed to do at Defensive Coordinator. The youth, energy, and intensity that Pettine had in New York was evident every Sunday. The question in front of me was how do I measure Pettine’s defenses in New York, and how do I show that in a post?

Well this is where my friends at Pro Football Focus and Football Outsiders both became very useful. I do want to add the following…

Disclaimer: I’m not a mathematician, I’m not that statistically inclined, nor do I fully understand the numbers contained in the article below, but I none the less find them interesting.

However the numbers I’m going to use seemed to go far more in depth than simply telling you that from 2009-2012 the New York Jets defense averaged allowing the 12th least points per game, 4th least yards per game, the 4th least passing yards per game, and the 13th least rushing yards per game. What does that tell you? Well it gives you a pretty strong basis for how good the Jets defense has been under Pettine, but it doesn’t give you any specifics nor does it account for the myriad of other factors that need to be considered.

So where do we start, well let’s first attempt to explain the basic difference in the numbers you’re going to see us use. The numbers from Pro Football Focus are going to be based off their player grading system which is explained here. The short version is that every player on the field is graded on every snap and they are assigned a score that ranges from +2 to -2 in 0.5 increments. So when you see that in 2012 the Jets defense was 17th in Total Defense with a score 1.6 know that is the cumulative score of their defense from that entire season.

Football Outsiders looks at things a little differently they also look at every play but as opposed utilizing a player grading system they take every single play during the NFL season and compares each one to a league-average baseline based on situation. This measure is called Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA). It is explained in a lot more detail with specific difference here.

Now that we have that explained (hopefully) let’s dive into the numbers…


In 2009 Mike Pettine followed Head Coach Rex Ryan from the Baltimore Ravens to New York Jets. Pettine had been a LB coach with the Ravens but was given his first shot at being a Defensive Coordinator with the Jets. In 2009 the Jets had the #1 ranked defense according to and both PFF and FO seem to agree with that assessment.

Football Outsiders

Team Defense 1st -25.5%
Pass Defense 1st -36.5%
Run Defense 7th -13.9%

Pro Football Focus

NFL Rank PFF Score
Total Defense 4th 84.7
Run Defense 2nd 59.5
Pass Rush 30th -48.6
Pass Coverage 2nd 65.9

Now the way to read these tables is pretty simple, on the Football Outsiders table the negative number is a positive number. Since DVOA is adjusted over average you want your defense to be below the average. So when it came to playing the run in 2009 the Jets were better on a play by play basis by 13.9% than the rest of the NFL. The PFF chart is even clearer in its meaning, the higher the score the better it is considered.

Now you’ll notice that PFF had the Jets Pass Rush ranked as the 30th best in the NFL. Now this was something I found to be odd considering how highly their overall numbers ranked at every other category so I dug deeper.

FO has a measure for its Defensive Line evaluations called the Adjusted Sack Rate. This combines sacks and intentional grounding penalties adjusted for down, distance, and opponent. In 2009 the Jets had 32 sacks, and had a sack rate of 6.9%. That basically means that for every 100 drop backs the Jets were getting a sack every 6.9 times. The NFL average for that year was 6.4%. So it appeared that the Jets were a better than average sack team despite the PFF measure. I wasn’t quite satisfied though so I dove deeper.

PFF publishes their cumulative player scores but because it is part of their premium numbers I’m not going to publish the full results here. Instead what I can tell you is that the New York Jets front seven combined for a total score of -49.1 and the worst offenders were DL Shawn Ellis (-17.9) and DL Marques Douglas (-13.8). Their best pass rusher was DL Mike Devito (4.5) on only 179 pass rush snaps.

Once I had an idea for how much or rather what specific players struggled for the Jets Pass Rush it was time to try and figure out how a team that had a  below average pass rush still ranked  among the best in the NFL. The guys at FO gave me this data as they actually break down the pass defense by the caliber of WR on the team they are facing. They do state that there is some subjectivity based on who they consider to the be the #1 or #2 WR but here are their results;

NFL Rank DVOA Yards Per Game
v. #1 WR 1st -39.9% 29.2
v. #2 WR 6th -18.7% 44.9
v. Other WR 4th -27.2% 27.6
v. TE 4th -26.5% 38.4
v. RB 3rd -21.6% 31.0

While all these numbers are impressive that -39.9% DVOA v. #1 WR’s is frankly absurd. In going over all the Defense v. Type WR’s from 2009-2012 only one other team was able to either meet or beat that number and that was the 2011 New York Jets. We’ll get the 2011 New York Jets in a bit but there is one clear parallel to draw and that is CB Darrell Revis. Revis went from a star to elite in 2009 and has for the most part retained that status since then. Revis had a 37.2 in Pass Coverage in 2009 according to PFF.

The last measure we looked at was from FO and it was a Drive Success break down that took a look at all 192 drives that the Jets defense faced in 2009.

NFL Rank Averages
Yards Per Drive 1st 21.42 Yards
Points Per Drive 1st 1.04 Points
Turnover Per Drive 11th .148 Turnovers
Drive Success Rate 1st .591 DSR

The ‘Drive Success Rate’ or DSR is a measure that determines the frequency in how often an opponent is able to have their drive result in a touchdown or first down. No other team in 2009 had a DSR below .600.

The 2009 New York Jets were arguably the most dynamic and toughest defense to move the football against. They did all of that despite having a low front seven score according to PFF. Every other unit appeared to be dominant and at the top of its game in Pettine’s first year as a Defensive Coordinator.


In 2010 the Jets experienced a slight regression in their numbers but still managed to finish among the elite when it came to total defense. Their run defense continued to lead the way with a pass defense that continued to hold its own.

Football Outsiders

Team Defense 5th -10.9%
Run Defense 2nd -21.6%
Pass Defense 7th -2.4%

As you can see from the above FO chart the numbers show a slightly larger drop when it comes to both overall Team Defense (+14.6%) and Pass Defense(+34.1%). However the Run Defense for the Jets got significantly better improving by just under -8% points. This drop in pass numbers does correlate better with PFF’s grading than it did in 2009.

Pro Football Focus

NFL Rank Score
Total Defense 11th 71
Run Defense 1st 83.2
Pass Rush 31st -43.9
Pass Coverage 3rd 31.6

As you can see here PFF saw thing similarly to how FO did, the Jets had a dominant run defense, good pass coverage but struggled to rush the passer. Here is the interesting phenomenon when it comes to that Pass Rush number. Both FO and the stats agree that the Jets were among one of the best pass rushing units in the league. They finished 8th in sacks with 40 in 2010 which was eight more than in 2009 and moved from 14th to 10th in FO’s DL rankings. Their adjusted sack ratio went up to 7.0%. So why did PFF again rank the Jets as one of the worst pass rush units in the league? I’m not sure but it could be more accurate given the regression everybody agreed happened with the Jets pass defense and that’s showed more clearly in the next chart.

NFL Rank DVOA Yards Per Game
v. #1 WR 12th -7.9% 58.8
v. #2 WR 24th 9.1% 48.8
v. Other WR 12th -7.3% 47.9
v. TE 9th -9.7% 51.6
v. RB 9th -10% 37.6

With the FO WR breakout and you see large gains made in every single category by the receiving options the Jets faced. This to me indicated that while in terms of pure numbers yes the Jets accrued a lot of sacks when they didn’t get there they were giving the QB all day to find open targets. It doesn’t matter how good your coverage is if you’re going to give the QB a lot of time to throw the ball.

NFL Rank Averages
Yards Per Drive 19th 28.03 Yards
Points Per Drive 21st 1.66 Points
Turnover Per Drive 9th .107 Turnovers
Drive Success Rate 21st .653 DSR

This drive success chart continues to show that this Jets defense was among the worst of Pettine’s career as the Jets defensive coordinator. This also happened to be the last year where Rex Ryan was overly involved in the defense and when he began to give Pettine more freedom.


This was the year when Mike Pettine was truly allowed to take over the Jets defense and call the plays. Years previous he worked closely with coach Ryan to develop gameplans and call plays on Sundays but here is when he was finally able to put his signature on the team.

Football Outsiders

Team Defense 2nd -16.1%
Pass Defense 2nd -16.0%
Run Defense 4th -16.2%

The Jets didn’t waste much time bouncing back from what was a poor 2010 for them defensively. They lowered both their total defense and pass defense DVOA’s and even though their run defense DVOA rose some it was not near the dramatic increases we saw in 2010. These returns seem to suggest a more balanced defense that was capable of shutting down both teams running and pass options.

Pro Football Focus

NFL Rank Score
Total Defense 6th 62.8
Run Defense 4th 58.8
Pass Rush 25th -39
Pass Coverage 5th 37.2

The theme of balance continues with PFF’s scores and you see even the pass rush saw some growth ranking in the Top 25 for the first time since Pettine got to the Jets. Total defense and run defense both saw a drop off but both pass rush and pass coverage saw good gains. The Jets were once again a Top 10 defense by PFF and had rediscovered their swagger.

NFL Rank DVOA Yards Per Game
v. #1 WR 1st -44.2% 56.6
v. #2 WR 21st 10% 41.6
v. Other WR 18th 2.9% 32.6
v. TE 27th 12.10% 58.8
v. RB 6th -14% 27.5

The key component to stopping a team’s running attack in the Jets 34 is the play of the LB’s. Similarly a lot of coverage ability both in the slot and with the TE also falls to the LB’s. As you can see in this chart while Darrell Revis continued to be the most dominant CB in all of football the LB’s and SAF’s seemed to struggle in coverage. The Jets were woeful in 2011 covering the TE giving up 58.8 yards per game to them on average. Not that they were much better v. the #2, or other WR options either. The pass coverage unit continued to be carried by Revis.

NFL Rank Averages
Yards Per Drive 2nd 21.78 Yards
Points Per Drive 6th 1.55 Points
Turnover Per Drive 10th .144 Turnovers
Drive Success Rate 2nd .617 DSR

The Jets defensive drive chart continues to show the overall growth in every category except for turnovers. They slid a little on creating turnovers in 2011 but still remained as a top 10 team. Offenses ability to use their 2nd and 3rd options in the passing game likely played into this.


Last year was a disaster in every sense of the word for the Jets. Rex Ryan’s ego was out of control, there were broad rumors of fighting within the organization, and the side show of Tim Tebow and Mark Sanchez was entertaining to all of us who can’t stand the Jets but pure torture to their own fans. As the off the field issues grew larger than the on the field product the Jets defense saw a slide in nearly every single categorical measure.

Football Outsiders

Team Defense 9th -4.2%
Run Defense 15th -5.8%
Pass Defense 10th -2.6%

Pro Football Focus

NFL Rank Score
Total Defense 17th 1.6
Run Defense 11th 30.3
Pass Rush 27th -30.2
Pass Coverage 15th 5.8

As you can see from each of the two charts above the Jets became a middle of the road defense last year. They were tough to move the ball against but if you got the right matchups then you had a good chance of taking advantage. The Jets continued to struggle to find a consistent pass rush threat and dealt with age and injury concerns among their defensive front 7. Calvin Pace and Bart Scott were among the ones who took the largest steps backward and both are expected to be cap cuts this offseason for the Jets.

NFL Rank DVOA Yards Per Game
v. #1 WR 10th -19.4% 53.3
v. #2 WR 12th -4.9% 48.2
v. Other WR 16th -0.9% 38.2
v. TE 14th -3.1% 46.5
v. RB 19th 4.1% 27.3

Pettine did improve one thing though from 2011 to 2012 and that was to figure out how to improve his overall pass coverage. The Jets were among only a few teams to have a negative DVOA for every single WR or TE measured. This was a result of some rather large schematic changes that we’ll get into later on.

NFL Rank Averages
Yards Per Drive 8th 28.07 Yards
Points Per Drive 13th 1.74 Points
Turnover Per Drive 21st .118 Turnovers
Drive Success Rate 7th .661 DSR

Finally you have the Jets drive success chart which like everything else shows poorer results than before. They still finished Top 10 in Drive Success Rate and I think that tells you more about the defense than any other measure above. Despite the injuries, the lack of depth, the unexpected sudden aging of star players, and the off the field distractions Pettine still had a defense that was Top 10 in stopping successful drives.

With all of that now out there the question becomes what kind of defense can we expect from Mike Pettine? Well that’s a question that will require a little more writing and some more charts that will come in Part 2. I will say this, if you’re asking yourself which defense is Mike Pettine going to bring to the Buffalo Bills a 34 or a 43 you’re asking the wrong question.

Check back tomorrow for Part 2 of our Mike Pettine breakdown!

Tags: Buffalo Bills, Mike Pettine

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