What Can Coach Pettine Do To Make Year Two Successful?

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Mike Pettine’s first year as an NFL head coach was challenging to say the least. His first round picks did not perform as expected. Alex Mack was lost for the season, and Josh Gordon never made things easy. At different points throughout the season, injuries to Armonty Bryant, Jordan Cameron, Tashaun Gipson, Karlos Dansby and John Hughes severely hindered the teams’ ability to win games.

Through all of that, the Browns still somehow went 7-9 and played meaningful late season games for the first time in years. Though there were ups and downs and mistakes you would expect from a rookie head coach, I think most fans would agree there is a lot to be encouraged about in regards to Pettine. The coaching staff was aggressive, made smart challenges and ACTUALLY MADE HALFTIME ADJUSTMENTS! However, there is still room for improvement heading into year two.

Take More Control, Be More Involved

Pettine has said he plans to be more involved with the offense since defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil has proven that he can handle the majority of the work load on defense. This is also a result of how things worked out with Kyle Shanahan. I sense that Kyle exerted much more control than Pettine would have liked at times. Pettine has hinted that at certain points, he may have strayed from his philosophy a bit. The relationship between Shanahan and his head coach seemed somewhat distant, rigid and questionable at times. I mean, let’s not forget it did end with Kyle forcing his way out and Pettine throwing some jabs at him publicly.

Having worked together in the past, he and new OC John DeFilippo should have a much more open and cohesive relationship. Shanahan is a young, aspiring head coach who is said to have a bit of an ego when it comes to coaching. DeFilippo, an up and comer calling plays for the first time, should be much more willing to defer to the discretion of his head coach. O’Neil taking more control of the defense should also allow Pettine to act more like a head coach and less like a defensive coordinator. Hopefully this will help him be more effective with game and clock management, things he struggled with at times last season.

Offense – Less Conservative, More Balanced

Offense is clearly where the Browns need the most help so I am alright with Mike wanting to be more involved. However, I do believe there are some things that should be rethought a bit going into this season. Last year, the coaching staff said over and over again their offense would be predicated on the run and play action pass. We saw success with this philosophy at times, most notably when center Alex Mack was in the lineup. However, when a team was able to load the box and slow our run game, we became completely ineffective.

Opposing teams knew that if they could stop our rushing attack, they would stop our entire offense. With receivers like Hartline and Bowe acquired in free agency, there should be more of a focus on the passing game this year. Now I understand that with 36 year-old Josh McCown likely under center, a strong line and two talented young running backs, being a run-first offense is a wise move and makes sense.

However, the reality is that in the NFL, you must have the ability to succeed on obvious passing downs to be consistently successful. It seemed the only time the Browns were a real passing threat was off the play action. In addition, it is difficult to ask two second year running backs who aren’t completely proven to carry the load. We must have the ability to move the ball and have success when the running game is struggling. I believe the Browns must be less conservative and more balanced with the pass this season in order to make the offensive improvement everyone wants to see.

Defense – Stay Aggressive, Stop the Run

The defense did some good things in 2014 and teams like Seattle have shown that defenses still win championships. Defensively, the Browns ranked 10th overall but were dead last against the run. Obviously, the run defense must improve for the Browns to finally get back to the playoffs. Help in the form of a top nose tackle or defensive lineman should be on the way through the upcoming draft. Outside of that, there are many things to be excited about on defense and the coaching staff should maintain their aggressive style to build upon what they’ve already been able to accomplish. I believe it is clear that Mike Pettine and Jim O’Neal are formidable defensive minds who know what they are doing. Browns fans should expect to have a top ten squad for years to come.

While he had growing pains and made some typical rookie head coach mistakes, I get the feeling that Mike Pettine knows what he is doing. When you put things into perspective, he was able to work through a landslide of adversity to have a decent first season. While there are some things he needs to improve upon, I was pleased overall with how he performed in 2014.

Browns fans, we may actually have a coach that we can build something around over the next few years. Let’s just hope that Ray Farmer and Jimmy Haslam will stick with him and provide the support he will need to succeed. As we all know, the biggest thing that Mike Pettine needs right now is time. Turning around the Cleveland Browns is a gargantuan task and will not be done overnight or even over a few years. If the front office continues to fire coaches before giving them a real chance, things will never change. Let Pettine do his job for many years to come! 

-Drae Smith

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