AFC East: Mike Pettine

Jim SchwartzAP Photo/David RichardDefensive coordinator Jim Schwartz arrived in Buffalo after five seasons as Detroit's head coach.
Even the Cleveland Browns haven't had it this bad.

The Buffalo Bills have run through more defensive coordinators over the past four years than any other team in the NFL, complicating their player-acquisition process through both free agency and the draft.

While their defensive schemes have changed each offseason since 2011, it's not all bad news. In hiring Mike Pettine last winter and Jim Schwartz to replace him in January, the Bills are sacrificing long-term coaching stability to help win now.

It's the right approach. Schwartz has extensive experience as a coordinator and head coach, while Pettine is a riser in the NFL coaching ranks, having recently been hired to lead the Browns. They're both talented defensive minds and better than the alternative, which would have been to promote from within or to poach an up-and-coming position coach from another team.

Schwartz is already putting his mark on the Bills defense. General manager Doug Whaley revealed last week that Kiko Alonso, who finished second in voting for the Associated Press' Defensive Rookie of the Year award, will move to weakside linebacker as part of yet another defensive overhaul.

Replacing Alonso at middle linebacker will be newly signed Brandon Spikes. The Bills also signed Keith Rivers, a former first-round draft pick, to potentially start at strongside linebacker.

It will be a whole new look, but one that presents some challenges for the Bills.

It was only a year ago when Buffalo signed linebacker Manny Lawson to a four-year, $12 million deal. The lanky veteran proved a strong fit in Pettine's system, starting 15 games and posting his best statistical marks since 2009.

Now Lawson is a man without a home. Under Pettine, Lawson could play close to the line of scrimmage, setting the edge against the run and blitzing on occasion. Things will be different with Schwartz, who rarely blitzes his linebackers and requires sturdier defensive ends than the 240-pound Lawson.

[+] EnlargeMike Pettine
AP Photo/Paul SpinelliThe Bills' defense improved in a number of areas during Mike Pettine's lone season as coordinator.
With three years left on Lawson's contract, the Bills wouldn't have received much of a salary-cap benefit by releasing him. Instead, they paid Lawson his $500,000 roster bonus last week and will try to find him a place among their new furniture.

"I think he's going to be a hybrid player. He's going to be able to bring us something as an outside linebacker but also come off the edge as a defensive end," Whaley told WGR 550 last week. "His versatility is going to be utilized within this system. That we think is going to be very valuable for us."

Translation: We like you Manny, but we don't really know what to do with you.

Lawson might find a situational role at defensive end, where Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes are the top two options. It also could be a position where the Bills try to add depth in the draft.

What about Alan Branch, who started 13 games at defensive end last season? Pettine's system required three big bodies along the defensive line. At 325 pounds, Branch fit that bill.

Without waiting to see how things would unfold with Pettine, the Bills jumped the gun in late December and gave Branch a three-year extension worth more than $3 million per season, with nearly $4 million in guaranteed money.

Under Schwartz, Branch figures to have a lesser role. The Bills already have a pair of defensive tackles in Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus -- who both made the Pro Bowl last season -- and Branch will be a capable but likely overpaid backup.

The Bills were smarter in doling out contracts last week. Spikes received a one-year deal and Rivers signed for two years. Both contracts included little guaranteed money.

After all, who knows where Schwartz will be by next January?

It took Schwartz eight seasons as the Tennessee Titans' defensive coordinator to earn his first head-coaching job, with the Detroit Lions. He's known as a prideful coach who, when introduced in Buffalo, came off miffed about the way things ended after five seasons in Detroit.

"I think if you look around, just about every coach has been in that position. Every coach has had some situation," he said. "There are some great ones that have been fired."

At 47, Schwartz might not have to wait long for another head-coaching opportunity, but that doesn't make him a bad investment by the Bills.

The Bills gambled when they hired Pettine last winter. It was among the NFL's worst-kept secrets that Pettine wanted to become a head coach. He was on the fast track. Unusual circumstances may have led to his hire by the Browns, but the departure from Buffalo was inevitable.

Likewise with Schwartz. The Bills might rebuild and grow with Whaley, Doug Marrone and EJ Manuel, but it's unlikely that Schwartz will stick around long enough to see that process through.

In Pettine and Schwartz, the Bills hired the best options on the market. Pettine boosted several areas of the Bills defense, helping it improve from 22nd in yards allowed per game in 2012 to 10th in 2013, while seeing the red zone defense jump from 31st to sixth last season. The Bills finished second in opposing QBR, second in sacks, second in interceptions and first in opposing completion percentage.

Meanwhile, Schwartz's defenses were typically strong in Tennessee, especially against the run. The Titans finished in the top six in rushing yards allowed in five of Schwartz's eight seasons as defensive coordinator.

Most important, both coaches are confident and experienced, allowing Marrone to focus his attention where it's needed the most: on offense. Had the Bills turned to a younger, less experienced defensive coordinator than Pettine or Schwartz, it would have created more continuity with scheme but also would have stretched Marrone thin.

Whaley and his scouting staff might get headaches trying to keep up with the defensive changes, but for a city that desperately needs a winning team, this is the right way to go.

Sunday notes: Heard around the combine

February, 23, 2014
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Notes and observations from the NFL scouting combine:

1. Backs to the wall: This comes as a bit of a surprise, but I hear the New York Jets are exploring free-agent running backs -- namely Donald Brown (Indianapolis Colts) and Ben Tate (Houston Texans). Obviously, their greatest needs are wide receiver and tight end, with running back thought to be a secure position with Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell. But general manager John Idzik is a big believer in competition and depth. It also could mean that the troubled Mike Goodson is on thin ice. The bad boy from last offseason has legal issues, a surgically repaired knee and an upcoming $650,000 roster bonus. Why would the Jets pay that for a player in Goodson's situation? Both Brown and Tate have above-average running skills and they can catch the ball, a much-needed skill in the Jets' backfield.

2. Money to burn: When free agency opens March 11, the Jets should have at least $22 million in salary-cap space (not counting the anticipated veteran purge), but that doesn't mean they'll be spending like Kim Kardashian in a designer clothing store. Idzik still believes in building through the draft. "The draft is your lifeline," he said. "Free agency is phone-a-friend." That said, the Jets are expected to use the phone a few times. The feeling in the organization is they will sign a No. 2 wide receiver, a tight end (if they lose Jeff Cumberland), a veteran backup quarterback, a running back and a kicker (if they lose Nick Folk). They're optimistic about their chances of re-signing tackle Austin Howard. Yes, they have a fairly lengthy shopping list, but I don't see them breaking the bank for anyone with an $8-million-a-year-type deal. They will use the draft to find a potential No. 1 receiver and a pass-catching tight end, along with plugging some holes on defense.

3. QB quest: The Jets met with at least two quarterbacks, LSU's Zach Mettenberger and Eastern Illinois' Jimmy Garoppolo. The 6-5 Mettenberger, in the final stages of knee-surgery rehab, is an interesting prospect. Idzik, who scouted him in person during the season, is looking to add a developmental quarterback at some point in the draft. Mettenberger could be just that in the late rounds. I see the Jets going to training camp with Geno Smith, Matt Simms, a new veteran backup and a rookie.

4. Off the Mark: If the Jets decide they want to retain Mark Sanchez (unlikely), they will try to get him to swallow a massive pay cut. The amount of their proposal will tell Sanchez just how much they really want him. If they try to slash his base pay from $9 million to $1 million, it would be insulting, a strong indication he'd have no chance to unseat Smith. If they offer in the $3 million-to-$5 million range, with a chance to make more money with incentives, it would show they consider him a viable starting option.

4a. Butt fumble revisited: Former longtime GM and current ESPN analyst Bill Polian believes Sanchez has been unfairly stigmatized by the "butt fumble." "Unequivocally, the butt fumble wasn't his fault," Polian told me. "It's been played ad infinitum. The guard (Brandon Moore) got driven into him. Perception is often times reality, and that's what people think. If you ask the average person what they think of Mark Sanchez, they'd say the butt fumble. It wasn't his fault."

5. Legal tampering: The combine is the place where agents and teams meet to discuss free-agent deals. Technically, it's not allowed, but no one says anything. Curiously, a number of agents told me that teams are reluctant this year to discuss specific dollar amounts. It's likely that teams, concerned about having their offers shopped around, are waiting for the March 8-11 exclusive negotiating period to get serious.

6. Seen around Indy: Former Jets colleagues Mike Tannenbaum and Eric Mangini lunched together. Despite the awkward parting in 2009 (actually, Woody Johnson was the driving force behind Mangini's ouster), Tannenbaum and Mangini have remained close friends. Mangini, named last week as the tight-ends coach of the San Francisco 49ers, is working his way up the ladder on the offensive side of the ball. If he makes it to coordinator some day, he'll have the rare offensive/defensive coordinator on his résumé.

6a. Seen around Indy II: Rex Ryan and twin brother, defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, took a break from the combine to eat at a local Hooters restaurant. Naturally, they ended up on Twitter, posing in a picture with a group of Hooters' waitresses.

7. Give that man a pair of ear plugs: Former Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine's experience in a circus-type environment (the Jets, 2009-2012) should serve him well in his new job as the Cleveland Browns' coach. He got the job after 23 people turned it down (only a slight exaggeration), saw the two men that hired him get whacked (Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi) and was hit Friday with the news that the Browns reportedly came close to hiring San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh before turning to him. Pettine called the Harbaugh story "noise -- and my goal is to quiet the noise." He recently held a staff meeting in which he used a Power Point presentation to underscore the challenge before them -- two playoff appearances, one playoff win and 141 coaches since 1991. Said Pettine: "To turn around a franchise, you have to be extraordinary." Here's wishing him luck; he'll need it.

8. Best and worst: I thought Michael Sam handled himself extremely well Saturday in his first news conference since sharing he is gay. Facing perhaps the largest news conference in combine history, Sam was confident, yet not cocky, projecting the image of a young man who just wants to play football. On the other side of the news-conference spectrum was Miami Dolphins coach Joe Philbin, who fumbled his way through a Q & A that focused on the bullying scandal. He was all over the place, accepting responsibility in one breath but pleading ignorance in the next. How they fired longtime trainer Kevin O'Neill, portrayed in a negative light in the Wells report, was a low-class move. The Dolphins flew him to the combine and then fired him, two days before he was to receive an award in Indianapolis as the league's top trainer. He didn't attend the ceremony, but received a standing ovation when his prepared remarks were read to the crowd.

9. Respect for JC: It was interesting to hear offensive linemen talk about South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney, the possible No. 1 overall pick. Said Michigan tackle Michael Schofield: "I played a series against Clowney, and that was probably the hardest series of my life." Other linemen echoed similar sentiments. The Houston Texans, picking first, have a tough choice. They need a quarterback, but Clowney is the best talent in the draft.

10. Johnny Football speaks: Clearly, Johnny Manziel's mission at the combine was to shatter his image as a rock star-party boy quarterback. Asked to describe the difference between Johnny Football and Johnny Manziel, the former Texas A & M star shifted into third person. "Johnny Manziel is a guy ... I’m from a small town of Kerrville, Texas, 20,000 people. People make me out to be a big Hollywood guy, (I'm) really just still a small-town kid" -- who jets off to Vegas to party with the rich and famous.
MOBILE, Ala. -- The Buffalo Bills released the following statement Thursday from head coach Doug Marrone, after defensive coordinator Mike Pettine accepted an offer to become the Cleveland Browns' next head coach:

"I want to take this opportunity to congratulate Mike on becoming the Browns new head coach and thank him for all of his time and efforts with our team this past season. He did an excellent job of improving our defense and we wish him the best.

We have a plan in place and we will introduce our new defensive coordinator after our final decision has been made."
The Buffalo Bills were a 6-10 team in 2013, but two of those wins came via a sweep of the Miami Dolphins. Those ugly losses essentially knocked Miami (8-8) out of playoff contention and resulted in changes within the organization.

But the Dolphins received some good news Thursday with the Cleveland Browns hiring Mike Pettine as their next head coach. Buffalo’s former defensive coordinator was a major reason Miami struggled mightily against the Bills.

The Dolphins averaged just 10.5 points per game in two contests against Pettine’s defenses. Miami’s 19-0 shutout loss to Buffalo was easily the Dolphins’ worst performance of the season. Pettine learned under New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan, who also had success late in the season against Miami.

Pettine climbed the NFL ladder fast, from a defensive coordinator in New York who didn’t call plays and wasn't fully in charge of the Jets' defense. He left for the Bills in 2013 to take over their defense, and the Browns came calling with their head-coaching position a year later.

Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill threw for 276 combined yards and was sacked nine times against Buffalo last season. Tannehill and the Dolphins can breathe a little easier now that Pettine is out of the division in 2014.
MOBILE, Ala. -- After a coaching search with several twists and turns over the past few days, the Cleveland Browns have hired Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine as their next head coach.

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The Bills, who want to continue to rebuild as head coach Doug Marrone enters his second season, must now move quickly to replace Pettine and perhaps some members of his staff.

It's unclear at this point which assistant coaches, if any, will follow Pettine to Cleveland. When Pettine arrived from the New York Jets last season, he brought along three of his lieutenants: defensive line coach Anthony Weaver, linebackers coach Jim O'Neil, and assistant defensive backs coach Samson Brown. Of that group, O'Neil would be the most likely to serve as Pettine's defensive coordinator in Cleveland.

Bills defensive backs coach Donnie Henderson has experience as a defensive coordinator for the Jets (2004-05) and the Detroit Lions (2006). He could be a candidate to serve in a role under Pettine in Cleveland, or to replace him in Buffalo. Henderson coached with Pettine with the Baltimore Ravens, but was also Marrone's defensive backs coach in his final season at Syracuse.

The Bills could also look outside of the organization to replace Pettine. One possible option on the market is Gregg Williams, who served as Bills' head coach from 2001-03. Williams was suspended for the entire 2012 season as part of the New Orleans Saints' bounty penalties, and served as a senior defensive assistant for the Tennessee Titans last season. Williams is known for an aggressive defensive scheme that could make for an easier transition from Pettine's pressure-based attack.

The expectation is that the Bills will waste little time in replacing Pettine. His departure has been on the radar since news first broke of his first interview last week, giving Marrone and other Bills decision-makers time to line up a contingency plan. With most NFL coaching staffs close to being finalized for next season, the options to replace Pettine are dwindling.

Senior Bowl bed check: Day 2

January, 21, 2014
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MOBILE, Ala. -- Wrapping up the events from the second day of Senior Bowl practices:

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Off-field buzz: While the Senior Bowl gives scouts a chance to evaluate a chunk of prospects for May's draft, it's what happens behind the scenes that is just as important. On Tuesday night, Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine interviewed for a second time with the Cleveland Browns, who have the NFL's final head coaching vacancy. As such, there's been plenty of buzz around Pettine and the Browns this week in Mobile, perhaps more than any players on the field.

Executives in town: Here's who we spotted in the stands during Tuesday's practices: Bills general manager Doug Whaley, former Bills general manager Buddy Nix, New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan, New Orleans Saints coach Rob Ryan, St. Louis Rams general manager Les Snead, New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, and Philadelphia Eagles general manager Howie Roseman. We've also spotted Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin and Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis this week.

Colvin tears ACL: One injury note to pass along: According to his agent, Andy Simms, Oklahoma cornerback Aaron Colvin tore his ACL in Tuesday's practice. According to Scouts, Inc., Colvin was the top-rated cornerback at the Senior Bowl. He is currently rated No. 67 among all draft prospects.
The pickings are slim for the Cleveland Browns. Since firing Rob Chudzinski, the Browns have run through several head coaching candidates and have yet to make a hire.

Their next interview will be with Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, and given the way Cleveland's coaching search has unfolded, it would hardly be a shock if Pettine soon becomes the favorite for the position.

That makes Pettine's possible departure from Buffalo a hypothetical worth exploring. What would it mean to the Bills?

Losing Pettine would be a major blow to coach Doug Marrone in his second year of a rebuilding effort. Marrone lured Pettine away from the New York Jets, and in just one season, Pettine quickly turned things around for a defense that had struggled for years.

If Pettine eventually leaves for Cleveland, it would be a strong bet that at least two of his assistants would follow: outside linebackers coach Jim O'Neil and defensive line coach Anthony Weaver. Both have backgrounds with Pettine, and would likely become building blocks for Pettine's staff in Cleveland.

With inside linebackers coach Chuck Driesbach fired this week, the Bills' defensive coaching staff could essentially be cleaned out by this move. Secondary coach Donnie Henderson would be a wild card, as he has experience with both Marrone and Pettine, and there would be an outside chance he would replace Pettine as defensive coordinator.

The more likely scenario, from this perspective, is that Marrone would choose to bring in another experienced defensive coordinator and re-start the building process on that side of the ball. The problem, however, would be timing. By late January or early February, most NFL and college staffs are complete, leaving the Bills with few "free agent" coaching options.

If Pettine is hired by the Browns and if the Bills choose to bring in a new defensive coordinator -- again, these are "ifs" -- then it will undoubtedly set the Bills back. The defense, while talented at most spots, would have to adjust to yet another new scheme, which is exactly what a second-year coach wants to avoid.

It would not be a monumental obstacle for the Bills to overcome, but one that could pose a significant problem for Marrone this season.
Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine will interview for the Cleveland Browns head coaching job, a league source confirms.

Pettine, 47, oversaw a Bills defense this season that finished with the NFL's second-most sacks (57), which was also a franchise record. Overall, the Bills defense improved from 26th in 2012 to 11th in points allowed this season.

The Bills hired Pettine last January after four seasons as defensive coordinator for the New York Jets. Pettine followed Rex Ryan to the Jets after coming up through the coaching ranks with the Baltimore Ravens.

Pettine is the latest of several coaches to interview for the Browns, who fired Rob Chudzinski after one season. The Browns are also expected to interview Denver Broncos Adam Gase, who said he would not interview until after Denver's season is over.

Last month, we explored the issue of Pettine's possible departure after the TheMMQB.com reported that Pettine was on an NFL-created list of potential head coaching candidates. Bills CEO Russ Brandon said at the time that the team would not block a coach from interviewing for a better position.

"My belief and foundation always has been about opportunity for people. You work your tail off in this business for opportunity," Brandon told WGR 550. "If coaches have that chance to better themselves for their career and for their family, it's something that you rarely, rarely would ever stand in that way for that opportunity."

Jay Glazer of Fox Sports first reported the interview.

Sunday notes: Cro set to fly?

January, 5, 2014
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The New York Jets are done, but not us:

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1. Likely cap casualty: One of the most interesting offseason decisions involves Antonio Cromartie, who is to count $15 million against the 2014 salary cap. That includes a $5 million roster bonus in March. Cromartie told teammates he expects the Jets to release him, but that he hopes to re-sign after testing the market. That would be the smart move. The Jets can't write a $5 million check for a soon-to-be-30-year-old cornerback who might need hip surgery. Because it's the final year of his contract, he can't do a simple restructuring to provide cap relief, as he did last year. They should cut him, let him shop around, and decide whether they want to match his best offer. They did it that way last offseason with Calvin Pace, and it worked out.

2. Status quo: The Jets have been quiet with regard to the coaching staff, but Rex Ryan doesn't appear to be planning wholesale changes. He met with his assistants, gave them a week off and, from all indications, left the impression that he wants to keep his staff together. So far, no one has been dismissed, and only one assistant has left -- linebackers coach Brian VanGorder, who became the Notre Dame defensive coordinator. Ryan doesn't appear to be in a rush and probably will take a week or so to finalize everything. At least six assistants have contracts that expire Feb. 1. A couple of departures can't be ruled out, considering all the openings around the league, but the key staffers are expected back. That means offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg.

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3. A Revis re-run? There has been been some faint speculation about the possibility of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers releasing cornerback Darrelle Revis, whose six-year, $96 million contract includes no guaranteed money. Revis isn't a good fit in Lovie Smith's Tampa-2 system, but it's still hard to imagine them cutting bait after one year, considering they traded a first-round pick to the Jets. Some Twitter followers have asked about the possibility of a Revis-Jets reunion. Forget about it. They refused to meet his asking price last year, when he was coming off knee surgery. Now, after making the Pro Bowl, you think he'll be giving a discount? No way.

4. Mirror images: Former Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine did a nice job in his first season as the Bills' DC. In fact, Buffalo's defensive numbers were almost identical to those of the Jets. Check it out: The Bills allowed 388 points; the Jets 387. The Bills allowed 5,334 total yards; the Jets 5,359. The difference is, the stats represented a one-year improvement for the Bills, who went from 26th to 20th in points allowed and 22nd to 10th in yards allowed. The Jets improved slightly in points allowed (20th to 19th), but dropped in yards allowed (eighth to 11th).

5. It doesn't add up: One of the truly bizarre stats from the season involved fumbles. The Jets forced 18 fumbles, yet recovered only two. You have to figure that a loose ball is a 50-50 situation, so the fact that the Jets failed 16 out of 18 times to come up with the fumble ... well, that's some seriously bad luck.
Ryan TannehillAP Photo/Bill WippertThe Buffalo Bills sacked Ryan Tannehill seven times, raising their season total to a franchise-best 56.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- As a team, the results haven't been there for the Buffalo Bills this season. Although winners of their past two games, the Bills have a 6-9 record and are closing in on their sixth consecutive season finishing in the basement of the AFC East.

Offensively, the Bills are a work in progress. But on the other side of the ball, defensive coordinator Mike Pettine's efforts won't go unnoticed by teams in search of a head coach this offseason, especially after Sunday's 19-0 shutout win over the Miami Dolphins.

According to a report last week from TheMMQB.com's Peter King, the NFL recently created a panel of former coaches and general managers to recommend head-coaching candidates to teams with vacancies. Pettine, 47, is on the list.

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"I'm not going to think about it until the season is over. That's flattering. Lists are lists. But that's come before, so it's one of those deals," Pettine told ESPN.com on Sunday. "We'll focus on New England [in the season finale], and then when the dust settles from that, we'll look into that."

In his weekly radio appearance on WGR 550 in Buffalo last Wednesday, Bills CEO Russ Brandon said it would be unlikely that the Bills would block someone like Pettine from interviewing with other teams.

"It's something that obviously would come through me, [general manager] Doug Whaley and Coach [Doug] Marrone. But it all depends on what the opportunity is, but if it's a head coaching, certainly [he] would have that opportunity," Brandon said.

"My belief and foundation always has been about opportunity for people. You work your tail off in this business for opportunity. If coaches have that chance to better themselves for their career and for their family, it's something that you rarely, rarely would ever stand in that way for that opportunity."

Losing Pettine would be a blow to the Bills' rebuilding efforts, but having assistant coaches in line for promotions elsewhere might be a good problem for Buffalo.

"If that's the coach's goal, obviously we encourage it and support him in every way if he has that opportunity. Obviously I would like to see him stay right here in Buffalo, because I really think we're building something special on that side of the ball," Brandon said. "But he's a heck of a coach. But I'm sure he will have interest down the road here, especially if we keep improving. That's the catch-22.

"If we're improving as an organization or as a team, you're going to have your coaches poached a little bit, and that wouldn't be a bad thing. I'd like to worry about it, actually."

If teams with head-coaching openings look at Pettine, Sunday's win will be at the top of Pettine's résumé from this season.

Already with an NFL-best 49 sacks entering the game, the Bills added another seven sacks Sunday, shattering Buffalo's previous franchise single-season record set in 1995. The Dolphins never reached the red zone, were held to 2-for-14 on third downs and finished with just 103 net yards on offense.

"That was a pretty good beating," Pettine said with a smile after the game.

The shutout win and sack record serve as a feather in the cap for Pettine, who has led the turnaround of a Bills defense that had underperformed in recent seasons. While the Bills ranked 18th in points allowed entering this weekend, more fine-tuned statistics tell a different story.

This season, ESPN NFL analyst Tedy Bruschi created a "defensive index" that tracks total turnovers, red zone defense, third-down conversions and points allowed by the defense. The Bills' defense ranked 12th in last week's installment and will undoubtedly move higher after Sunday's performance.

Prior to this season, it would have been easy to knock Pettine's coaching résumé. In his previous stints with the New York Jets and Baltimore Ravens, Pettine served as an assistant to Rex Ryan, a defensive mind who received much of the credit for that unit's success. But last offseason, Pettine decided to step out of Ryan's shadow and pair up with Marrone, whose NFL coaching background has come entirely on offense.

Now, the credit is due to Pettine. While the Bills' defense hasn't been excellent -- it ranks 23rd in rushing yards allowed per game, for example -- it has been very good for stretches this season, which could be enough to prove Pettine's worth to head-coaching headhunters in search of a top coordinator.

Still, the Bills' overall record this season might work against Pettine when coaching jobs open as soon as next week. It's often coordinators on playoff teams -- not those in last place in their division -- who receive consideration for head-coaching vacancies, so Pettine could be hurt by the limited national exposure the Bills received this season.

Pettine's career aspirations aside, it's fair to question if the Bills have wasted their defense's strong performances this season. It's even something Marrone's 9-year-old son has asked his dad.

"My son asked me the same thing, the same exact question you asked me. 'Do you look back and say should've, could've, would've?' I told him in life you can't do that," Marrone said. "Not in the present time and not with what we're doing. You always have to move forward and just keep working and building it."

Double Coverage: Bills at Jaguars

December, 13, 2013
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Johnson/HenneUSA TODAY SportsStevie Johnson's Bills and Chad Henne's Jaguars are both 4-9, but the teams appear headed in opposite directions.
It has been a different second half for the Jacksonville Jaguars and Buffalo Bills.

Both teams are 4-9 but they’re on opposite wavelengths. The Jaguars have won four of their past five games and are currently riding a three-game winning streak for the first time since 2010. The Bills have lost four of their past five and are coming off an abysmal performance in Tampa Bay.

Jaguars coach Gus Bradley is talking about making sure his players treat prosperity the same way they treated the adversity they faced in the first half of the season. Bills coach Doug Marrone is talking about scaling back the offense to help rookie quarterback EJ Manuel.

The teams meet Sunday at EverBank Field. ESPN.com Bills reporter Mike Rodak and Jaguars reporter Michael DiRocco break down the matchup:

DiRocco: Manuel is pretty familiar to fans in Jacksonville from his time at Florida State. He has had an up-and-down season, but what have you seen from him that leads you to believe the Bills made the correct choice in deciding to build the franchise around him?

Rodak: I think the jury is still out on whether the Bills made the correct choice in Manuel. In Sunday's loss to the Buccaneers, Manuel posted a 3.8 QBR, which ranks 415 out of 426 single-game performances in the NFL this season. It's dangerous to give too much weight to what's most recent, but in this case, Sunday had to be alarming for the Bills. Manuel has the leadership and character traits that any NFL team wants in its quarterback, but his on-field performance has left a lot to be desired. These last three games will be critically important to determining which direction Manuel is heading.

The Jaguars have gone on a surprising run lately, winning four of their past five games. Have they been doing anything different than early in the season? Or are things just simply starting to come together for Gus Bradley and his players?

DiRocco: Schematically, no, other than just paring down the defensive game plan a bit and focusing more on the coverages and blitzes they do well. But three things stand out: better run defense, a better turnover ratio and better success in the red zone. In the first eight games -- all losses by double digits -- the Jaguars were allowing 161.8 yards per game rushing, were minus-7 in turnover ratio, and scored TDs on only 25 percent of red-zone possessions. The numbers in the past five games: 70.8 yards per game allowed, plus-5, and 66.7 percent. The offensive line has been much more consistent, quarterback Chad Henne is making few mistakes, and the defensive line has held up at the point of attack much better.

Kiko Alonso is one of the candidates for defensive rookie of the year and is second in the NFL in tackles. Obviously a second-round pick is expected to produce, but has the kind of impact he has made on the defense been a surprise?

Rodak: I think so. When I spoke to defensive coordinator Mike Pettine last month about Alonso, he indicated that the Bills inserted him into the starting lineup in the spring, but it was a wait-and-see deal. If it didn’t work out, they were going to turn somewhere else, but Alonso has certainly fit well within this defense. He has drawn a lot of praise from coaches and veterans on this team for his work ethic and ability to pick up the scheme quickly. However, I do think that Alonso’s play has tailed off slightly over the past several weeks after he had a hot start this season. He had four interceptions, one sack, and one forced fumble in the first month of the season. Since then, he has had one sack, no interceptions and no forced fumbles. Is that overly concerning for the Bills, though? Most likely not. I think Alonso will be a fixture in this defense for the foreseeable future.

What’s the latest on Maurice Jones-Drew? I remember hearing some trade talk around him a few months ago, but once the deadline passed, he hasn’t been on the radar as much. Does he have a future in Jacksonville?

DiRocco: He does if he’s willing to be realistic about a contract. No team is going to pay big money for a 29-year-old running back that has battled injuries the past two seasons, which is what he’ll find out if he decides to test the free-agent market when his contract expires after this season. The Jaguars are interested in re-signing him and likely will offer him an incentive-filled two-year contract worth $6-10 million. Jones-Drew, who would like to finish his career in Jacksonville, is making $4.95 million this season so that would be a pay cut. If he’s OK with that, then I’d be surprised if he’s not around.

What do you think of the job Doug Marrone has done in his first season? And what do you think of his long-term future in Buffalo?

Rodak: I think it has been a trying season for Marrone. It's not that there were high hopes for the team in his first season -- nobody realistically expected them to make the playoffs -- but I don't think everything fell into place as well as he would have liked. His hire of Mike Pettine as defensive coordinator has generally paid off well, but ultimately what's going to define Marrone's tenure in Buffalo will be the quarterback position. Coaches don't often get more than one chance to get it right at quarterback, so if Manuel doesn't work out in Buffalo, it may not work out for Marrone, either. That's just today's NFL. It's a brutal league.

What about for the Jaguars? Their roster was about as bare bones as it gets this past offseason -- in much worse shape than the Bills' entering this season -- and they've managed to put on a nice little run here. What's the next step that general manager David Caldwell needs to take?

DiRocco: His No. 1 priority is to find a franchise quarterback. At the beginning of the season I would have told you the Jaguars would draft Teddy Bridgewater with the No. 1 overall selection, but since it now appears the Jaguars will be picking in the Nos. 5-7 range it seems unlikely Bridgewater will be around. Caldwell is going to have to figure out whether there’s somebody else he likes just as much or if he’s going to be willing to gamble that he can get a good QB a little later in the draft, whether it’s A.J. McCarron, Aaron Murray or somebody else.

Film Review: Geno's sad stories

November, 19, 2013
11/19/13
4:45
PM ET
Peyton Manning likes to say that every interception has a story. In that case, Geno Smith has enough material to rival "War and Peace."

Smith has 16 interceptions, the same number Mark Sanchez had in his first 10 rookie starts. Smith added to his total in Sunday's 37-14 loss to the Buffalo Bills, perhaps jeopardizing his job. A breakdown of his three interceptions, each one with its own story:

[+] EnlargeGeno Smith
Rick Stewart/Getty ImagesGeno Smith's three interceptions Sunday were largely his own doing.
1. Second quarter, second-and-13, Jets' 12-yard line: Smith simply misread the defense. The Bills played a single-high safety most of the game and, sure enough, there was Jairus Byrd in the deep middle. He didn't try to bait Smith, he simply stood his ground. A review of the all-22 tape reveals that Byrd didn't move an inch from the snap until the ball was released. Tight end Jeff Cumberland ran a deep over route directly in front of Byrd. For a safety, this is like having someone knock at your door and hand you a winning lottery ticket. Byrd came up a few steps, but only after the ball was released. The Bills rushed five, but the protection was good. Time wasn't an issue for Smith, who kept his eyes glued to Cumberland -- an easy pick for Byrd. Smith should've thrown to wide receiver David Nelson, who was open on a shallow cross.

2. Third quarter, second-and-13, Jets' 17-yard line: Smith may have been confused by a disguised coverage. Cornerback Nickell Robey went in motion with receiver Stephen Hill, usually a tip-off that it's man-to-man coverage -- except the Bills dropped into a zone. It looked like deep thirds, with Byrd -- yes, him again -- in the middle. Smith looked for receiver Santonio Holmes on an 18-yard in-cut. This time, Byrd read Smith's eyes and abandoned his deep middle, sprinting toward Holmes. Smith, under no pressure, threw it a split-second too late, giving Byrd the time he needed to make the interception. This, too, was on Smith. You can't blame a lack of pass protection.

3. Third quarter, second-and-10, Jets' 36-yard line: This was the most damaging of the three because it was a pick-six for safety Da'Norris Searcy. It was a bad throw by Smith, but I'm going to give some credit to the defense here. This play highlighted the chess match between Jets offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg and Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. The Bills had seven at the line of scrimmage, showing blitz. It looked like an overloaded blitz to Smith's left, which had been successful early in the game. Mornhinweg had the perfect call, a quick-screen left to Holmes -- or so it seemed. As it turned out, the Bills rushed only four, with three on the line -- including Searcy -- dropping into coverage. The Bills acted like they knew the call. Searcy read it perfectly, positioning himself in the throwing lane between Smith and Holmes. No one bit on the play fake to running back Bilal Powell. Searcy made a terrific catch and took it to the house.

End of story. Make that stories. It's always plural with Smith.

Tale of two games: In the first meeting, the Jets protected Smith like the queen's jewels -- no sacks and only two hits. In this game, it was four sacks and eight hits. The offensive line, with the exception of left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson, did a poor job. The Bills brought the heat, sending five or more rushers on 16 of 27 dropbacks by Smith, according to ESPN Stats & Information. On those plays, Smith was only 4-for-12, including two interceptions and four sacks. Clearly, Pettine wasn't worried about Smith beating the blitz. Unlike the previous meeting, the Bills' secondary was intact and they smothered the Jets' wideouts in man-to-man.

This was a particularly rough day for rookie left guard Brian Winters, who allowed one sack, one hit and one pressure, by my count. He was beaten badly by defensive tackle Kyle Williams on a strip-sack in the second quarter, arguably the biggest defensive play of the game. Winters also missed a block on a goal-line shovel pass that should've been an easy touchdown. Right guard Willie Colon (one sack, one pressure) had an off day, as did right tackle Austin Howard (two QB hits). Howard allowed the crushing hit on the fourth play of the game, the one where defensive tackle Marcell Dareus blasted Smith.

Pettine used some of the stuff he learned from Rex Ryan. In the second quarter, Byrd was unblocked on an overload blitz -- four players rushing from one side, only one on the other. This was straight from the Ryan handbook. In the third quarter, Pettine dialed up the same blitz. This time, the Jets blocked it up, with Powell picking up the blitzing safety. Ah, but another problem developed. They would've had a first down, but Hill dropped Smith's pass. That's what happens when you're struggling on offense. If it's not one thing, it's another.

Deep thoughts: The problems continued for the defense on long passes. Three completions proved costly.

On the 34-yard touchdown to T.J. Graham, Ryan gambled and lost. He sent Ed Reed on a safety blitz for the first time, leaving "zero" coverage on the back end -- no deep safety. Graham adjusted to an underthrown pass that caught in the wind, beating cornerback Dee Milliner. Ryan, fiercely protective of Milliner, said the rookie was in "great position" to make a play, but committed a technical faux pas -- a zone turn instead of a man turn. As a result, he lost sight of the receiver.

In the third quarter, Milliner was beat for 40 yards by Graham in a man-to-man situation. Milliner missed his jam at the line, giving Graham a free release. Dawan Landry, not Reed, was the deep safety, but he was nowhere close to the play. On Marquise Goodwin's 43-yard touchdown, cornerback Antonio Cromartie played it properly, according to Ryan. It was "bail" coverage. Cromartie bailed at the line, creating the cushion, but he couldn't keep up with Goodwin, who has world-class speed. The Jets rushed five, but EJ Manuel delivered the ball in less than three seconds. Reed, in the deep middle, arrived late from the opposite hash.

Odds and ends: The pass rush was nowhere to be found. The Jets had only one sack; in their Week 3 meeting they sacked Manuel eight times. ... Smith actually completed three of his first four passes, meaning he went 5-for-19 after that. ... Curious play calling by Mornhinweg in the third quarter. After closing to within 20-7, they went three-and-out with three straight passes. ... Funny moment in the third quarter. The Jets tried a pick play with Holmes and Nelson, and they both ended up falling down. ... Even thought it was garbage time, the Bills didn't go soft against quarterback Matt Simms. They continued to send five-man rushes. Why not? The Jets' receiving corps doesn't scare anybody.

Injuries are catching up with Bills

October, 4, 2013
10/04/13
3:09
AM ET
EJ Manuel Ron Schwane/USA TODAY SportsEJ Manuel's sprained knee suffered Thursday night is just the latest bit of bad luck for the Bills.

CLEVELAND -- There’s a game that the Buffalo Bills’ brass must feel like they’re playing right about now, and it’s not just football.

It’s Whac-A-Mole.

The Bills have tried to navigate an early-season obstacle course of injuries, one that has taken key players out of the lineup on both sides of the ball.

The latest blow came Thursday night and struck EJ Manuel, whom Buffalo drafted in the first round this year to be their franchise quarterback. After scrambling for a first down in the third quarter, Manuel was hit in his right knee by Cleveland Browns safety Tashaun Gipson.

Manuel has a sprained knee, and with 10 days before the Bills’ next game, his prognosis is not immediately clear. But this much is obvious: The version of the Bills that finished Thursday’s game resembled something more like the squad that closed out preseason games.

Rookie Jeff Tuel -- the undrafted free agent from Washington State whom the Bills were ready to start in Week 1, if you need a reminder -- took over for Manuel and looked like, well, an undrafted rookie. He went 8-for-20 passing for 80 yards and threw a pick-six with less than two minutes remaining that ended any hopes of a Buffalo comeback.

The story would be much different, of course, if Tuel had been able to somehow pull out a victory on the road. But in an improbable scenario where both starting quarterbacks were knocked out with injuries Thursday night, nobody will blame Tuel for the Bills’ 37-24 loss.

In fact, it’s tough to place blame on anyone for the Bills’ 2-3 record thus far. This isn’t the team that general manager Doug Whaley and coach Doug Marrone, both in their first seasons, drew up.

Arriving from Syracuse, Marrone brought energetic 33-year-old offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett along to Buffalo and convinced defensive coordinator Mike Pettine to bring his aggressive scheme with him from the New York Jets. And at times, we’ve seen glimpses of the young, talented team that Whaley and his staff envisioned all spring and summer. This is far from the bottom-feeding roster that other so-called rebuilding teams must contend with.

It’s just not a healthy one.

The first signs of trouble came on the first day of training camp, when defensive end Mario Williams, one of the best at his position, showed up with a sore foot. Luckily for the Bills, he was able to shake that off.

That wasn’t the case with another Pro Bowl defender, Jairus Byrd, who signed his franchise-tag tender in late August and also arrived to camp with sore feet. Byrd has yet to play -- he was held out Thursday night on a coach’s decision -- and his presence as a back-end ball hawk has been missed.

As has cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who has been out with a fractured wrist since the preseason. Though only in his second season, the team believes Gilmore can become a top-tier NFL corner.

[+] EnlargeStevie Johnson
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsBills receiver Stevie Johnson went to the locker room during the second quarter with a back injury.
And on offense, the Bills have dealt with three significant injuries in recent weeks, even before Manuel went down. Their two-headed rushing attack of C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson has been slowed by multiple ailments, while top receiver Stevie Johnson could not finish Thursday’s game after hurting his back.

It’s been one injury after another, after another.

For a while Thursday night, it looked like the Bills were finally starting to overcome their problem. Cornerback Leodis McKelvin returned to the lineup after missing almost two full games with a hamstring injury, a step toward the secondary getting back to health.

And then came what the Bills probably weren’t expecting: Spiller, on short rest and a bum ankle, broke open a 54-yard touchdown run on the third play of the second half.

Spiller trotted back to the bench with a limp, and after the game was seen in the locker room walking even more gingerly. But for one play, the Bills got what they needed out of him, as they did with Jackson, who has a sprained MCL. Jackson carried 17 times for 53 yards and two touchdowns.

“Two gutsy players,” Bills center Eric Wood said. “Having them out there was vital tonight. Credit them. It wasn’t easy for either of them, but they both fought back.”

For Buffalo, though, it just wasn’t enough. They were too banged up to pull this one out.

The Bills may get Manuel back for their next game, Byrd looks close to returning and the extra days of rest may do wonders for Spiller and Johnson.

But the way this young season has gone for the Bills, it seems like the next injury is lurking around the corner, ready to pop up its head.

Best offensive day under Rex

September, 23, 2013
9/23/13
12:11
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Under the defensive-minded Rex Ryan, the New York Jets have not enjoyed too many days in which they resembled an explosive offense. But it happened Sunday, as they produced 513 total yards, the most ever in 67 regular season games under Ryan.

It was their first 500-yard day since the 2000 season finale in Baltimore.

And it came against Ryan's former protege, Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. Afterward, Ryan didn't do any gloating.

"It's just the way it works," Ryan said. "Mike is a heck of a football coach and sometimes those things happen. You give up big plays and that number happens. Obviously, I'd much rather be on this end than that end."

Told it was the most total offense he's had as the coach of the Jets, Ryan laughed and said, "Well, don't give me credit."

Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg called an aggressive game, attacking downfield. The Jets had four pass plays of 40 yards or more, only one shy of their 2012 total. They exploited a secondary that began the day without two starters, and lost cornerback Leodis McKelvin during the game.

For those obsessed with Mornhinweg's run-pass ratio, the Jets had 41 runs and 29 passes. The Jets had a 300-yard passer, a 100-yarder rusher (Bilal Powell) and two 100-yard receivers (Santonio Holmes and Stephen Hill) for the first time since 2006.

The offensive line did a fantastic job, not allowing a single sack. Defensive end Mario Williams, who set a team record with 4 1/2 sacks last week, was held to one solo tackle. The Bills began the day tied for the league lead with nine sacks.
Some quick thoughts and observations on the Jets as we head into Week 3:

1. Arms race: The perception that Geno Smith was the Jets' slam-dunk quarterback preference going into the 2013 draft isn't accurate. Smith and EJ Manuel, whom they face Sunday at MetLife Stadium, were "very close" on the Jets' draft board, according to former scout Joe Bommarito. "We had both guys up there high," he said.

Bommarito declined to divulge anything more specific than that, except to say both quarterbacks were grouped together on the same line on their board, meaning they probably had similar grades. If Smith hadn't been available in the second round, Bommarito said, they would've happily picked Manuel at No. 39 overall. Manuel took a pre-draft visit to the Jets' facility and felt the coaches liked him enough to take him.

As it turned out, the Jets passed twice on both quarterbacks (with the ninth and 13th picks). By the time they got to 39, Manuel was long gone, picked 16th by the Bills.

Bommarito's take on the two rookies: Smith has the stronger arm, Manuel gets the edge in accuracy. So far, you'd have to give the early lead to Manuel, who has made fewer mistakes than Smith. But we'll learn more about Manuel by the way he handles his first road game.

[+] EnlargeStephen Hill
Ed Mulholland/USA TODAY SportsA former Jets scout said that the team considers WR Stephen Hill, a 2012 second-round draft choice, a "four-year project."
2. The Hill Project: Bommarito, whose contract wasn't renewed after the draft, spent a dozen years as a Jets scout. One draft pick that caused a considerable amount of angst among fans (and some in the organization) was WR Stephen Hill, whose inconsistency is maddening. Bommarito is a Hill fan, but he acknowledged, "One minute, you're excited about the guy. Other times, you're like, 'Oh, really?' He's a four-year project. You have to be patient with him." He was alluding to Hill's limited background in the passing game. But four years? That's a lot of waiting in the NFL, especially for a second-round draft pick in 2012.

For more Jets-related insights from Bommarito, check him out on Twitter. His handle is @AskTheScout.

3. Rex's coaching tree: Both Rex Ryan and Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine insist everything is cool between them, and that there was no falling out at the end of last season. Ryan told me he wants Pettine to succeed in his new gig. Another former Ryan assistant, Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton, is off to a great start. Before Thursday night, the Jets and Chiefs were ranked first and second in total defense, respectively, among AFC teams.

"I'm proud of Bob Sutton, too," Ryan said. "Somehow, maybe I helped a little bit. I'm proud to have a little bit of a coaching tree."

4. Nate (Can) Hackett: Speaking of coaching trees, what's better than a father-son deal? Bills offensive coordinator Nate Hackett is the son of former Jets OC Paul Hackett, who served under Herm Edwards from 2001-04. Hackett, a Bill Walsh disciple, was a lightning rod for criticism. He got beat up pretty badly in this town, so much so that he resigned under pressure after the Jets' playoff run in Jan. 2005. The tabloids cranked out plenty of "Paul Can't Hack-it" headlines.

His son, 33, the second-youngest coordinator in the NFL, is a rising star in the business. Bills coach Doug Marrone, the offensive line coach on that same Edwards staff, hired Nate at Syracuse. That's where they developed the up-tempo offense they're using in Buffalo, and it happened almost by accident. About two weeks before the 2012 opener, the Syracuse offense was getting dominated by the defense in practice. They needed to shake it up, so Marrone and Hackett junked their old offensive system and developed a hurry-up attack on the fly. That's what you call a true hurry-up.

5. The big trade: Jets OT Ben Ijalana, a former second-round pick of the Colts, was "excited," but not surprised his old team made the blockbuster trade for RB Trent Richardson. Ijalana said, "This is now for the Colts. There's no later. They have Lombardi aspirations. It's no secret. They talk about it all the time."

It's great to have an aggressive organization, but I think this was a panic move by the Colts, who surrendered a first-round pick to the Browns. Richardson gives them a legitimate running back to help QB Andrew Luck, but he won't be a game changer behind that offensive line. Luck is only a second-year player, so the window of opportunity will be open for many years. Like I said, they panicked.

6. Impact on the Jets: The Colts/Browns trade could affect the Jets in 2014. Clearly, the Browns are in the market for a franchise quarterback, and now they have two first-round picks to wheel and deal their way to the top passer in the '14 draft, presumably Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville. The Browns own five picks in the first three rounds, plenty of ammunition to make trades. If the Jets don't like what they see from Geno Smith and want to draft another quarterback, it'll be really hard to move ahead of the Browns.

Then again, after trading their best player, the Browns could up with the No. 1 pick without having to trade up.

7. Rex and Marty Show: Mark my words, you'll be hearing the phrase "run-pass ratio" a lot throughout the season. The chatter already has started. Ryan is saying all the right things, claiming he's all-in with Marty Mornhinweg's pass-heavy approach, but this bears watching. Ryan is a defensive-minded coach and defensive-minded coaches have "ball control" in their DNA, especially when there's a rookie quarterback involved. Under Mornhinweg, they're running the ball in only 37 percent of the plays. In 2009, Mark Sanchez's rookie year, they ran 59 percent of the time.

8. Class of '13: GM John Idzik is getting a lot of bang out of his first draft, at least in terms of playing time. Smith and FB Tommy Bohanon have played in 100 percent and 43 percent of the offensive snaps, respectively. For DT Sheldon Richardson and CB Dee Milliner, it's 90 percent and 78 percent of the defensive snaps, respectively. Milliner, benched at halftime last week, will be part of a rotation against the Bills.

9. The Iron Man: LT D'Brickashaw Ferguson has started every game in his career (114) and has missed only one play. There have been 7,330 offensive plays since his rookie year, 2006, according to ProFootballReference.com

10. Keeping up with Mr. T: Former GM Mike Tannenbaum is off to a fast start in the agent business, having signed at least 20 new clients from the coaching and media ranks. Sports Business Journal catches up with Tannenbaum to see how he's enjoying his new gig.

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