Blitzing could define Pettine-Rex reunion

September, 17, 2013
9/17/13
5:00
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There's a chess match brewing this Sunday in the Meadowlands.

You don't need a media guide to know that Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine got his start in NFL coaching in Baltimore with now-Jets head coach Rex Ryan. The two have shared a long history since, with Pettine following Ryan to New York as defensive coordinator from 2009-2012.

But what nobody seems to know is how the two all-too-familiar, defensive-minded coaches will attack each other's offense when the two reunite at MetLife Stadium this weekend.

If their track records are any indication, both coaches' game plans will involve the blitz.

Sometimes that pressure is real. Sometimes it's just a look at the line of scrimmage that turns into a trap for opposing quarterbacks. Either way, it's a staple of Ryan and Pettine defenses.

When Ryan became Jets head coach with Pettine as his defensive coordinator, the Jets blitzed more effectively than any team in the NFL. In 2009, the Jets held opponents to a league-low 42.9 percent completion percentage when rushing six or more, with a dismal 44.9 opposing passer rating far and away the best in the league.

Pettine came to Buffalo this offseason to fix a Bills defense with several holes, effective blitzing among them. In 2012, the Bills ranked 26th in the NFL when rushing six or more, allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete 61.9 percent of their passes.

As Pettine tinkered with his new pieces on defense, incorporating blitzing didn't always work to plan. In the Bills' third preseason game, when starters had their most extensive playing time, the Redskins were able to turn early blitzes into big gains.

But through two regular-season contests, the Bills have turned it around.

Opposing passers (i.e., Tom Brady and Cam Newton) have completed 50 percent of their passes when faced with five or more Bills rushers, tied for fourth-best in the NFL. And even when Brady or Newton was able to get the pass off and completed, the Bills held opposing receivers to just 8 yards per catch, sixth-best in the league.



The Jets, meanwhile, are also in the top third of the NFL when rushing five or more. Opposing quarterbacks have completed 56.7 percent of their passes, the tenth-best mark. However, opposing receivers have gained 13.18 yards per completion when the Jets blitz, seventh-worst in the NFL.

Both teams though, have fared well when incorporating another wrinkle of Ryan and Pettine's scheme: Blitzing a defensive back.

While each team has been judicious in doing so thus far this season, the Jets (42.9 opposing completion percentage) and the Bills (50 percent) rank third and tied for fifth, respectively.

The sample sizes for both teams this season may be small, but history tells us this: Pettine and Ryan are two of the best when it comes to dialing up pressure.

With a rookie quarterback -- EJ Manuel for the Bills and Geno Smith for the Jets -- starting for each team Sunday, this will be a fun one to watch.

Mike Rodak

ESPN Buffalo Bills reporter

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