The certainty for the Buffalo Bills’ offense Sunday in Green Bay is Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine will severely test its protection schemes.
As Bills fans will recall, Pettine was defensive coordinator in Buffalo in 2013 when the Bills set their single-season record for sacks with 57.
The uncertainty is how much Pettine will feel the need to blitz – send five or more pass rushers at Josh Allen – and expose his defensive backs to man-to-man coverage.
“He does a great job,” said Bills defensive end Jerry Hughes. “We understand what kind of pressure he brings. We understand he likes to mix and mingle, especially when you have a rookie quarterback at the helm. We know what he’s capable of.”
The 52-year-old Pettine is in his first season as Packers coordinator. He sat out the previous two seasons after joining the long list of men who got fired as head coach of the Cleveland Browns.
Pettine’s defense is off to a mediocre start. Green Bay was pretty good in a Week 1 win over Chicago, gave up too many passing yards (412) in a Week 2 tie vs. Minnesota and yielded too many rushing yards (166) in a Week 3 loss at Washington.
Bills veterans Kyle Williams and Jerry Hughes respect Pettine because they say he gets the most out of his talent.
Pettine spent his first 11 NFL seasons as a protégé of Rex Ryan, dialing up complex pressure packages from a multitude of defensive calls. The prevailing opinion in the Bills locker room was Ryan threw too much into the game plan and stuck to his scheme to a fault during his Bills tenure. Not so with Pettine in 2013.
“When he came in, it was a lot more extravagant through the OTAs and mini camp than it ended up being during the regular season,” said Bills defensive tackle Kyle Williams. “When we ran installs, we had a lot of different things going on. I think the great thing he did is he took his system and what he wanted the defense to do and molded it into the personnel we had.”
“He said, OK, we think we have guys who can rush the passer and we don’t have to put as much stress on the back end," Williams said. "We can simulate pressure and play coverage and let you guys rush."
“He does a great job of finding ways to put his guys in positions to be successful,” Hughes said. “When he was here, we had a bunch of sacks. We had a bunch of fun with him here.”
With Buffalo in 2013, Pettine’s blitz rate (35 percent) ranked 11th in the NFL. He didn’t have great talent in Cleveland in 2014 and ’15 and dropped his blitz rates to 28 and 25 percent, respectively, those years, according to Football Outsiders. So far this year, the Packers are blitzing 26 percent.
Green Bay edge rushers Clay Matthews and Nick Perry aren’t off to hot starts. They have just three pressures apiece, according to Pro Football Focus, and the Packers have six total sacks.
Interior defensive linemen Mike Daniels and Kenny Clark have been much more effective pushing the pocket.
Pettine is sure to dial up some of his trademark overload edge pressures, whether that means rushing five or having defensive backs join a four-man rush and dropping linemen into coverage.
"We've got to do a better job at affecting the quarterback," Pettine told reporters Thursday. "If we're not sacking the quarterback, we need to at least, at the very minimum, get him off his spot and hit him. And too many times, it's been like the pass drill where there is no pass rush, and that makes it hard on the back end."
“Simulated pressure,” Williams said. “Showing six and bringing four. Showing three bringing five. That’s something he did well that I always complimented him on. He took who we had and kind of built the defense around who we had, rather than just trying to make guys do certain things.”
In the first two weeks, the Bills were sacked six times on blitzes, three times on zone dogs or by getting fooled by “simulated pressure” and twice on straight four-man rushes. It's hard for a rookie QB to adjust the protection.
There was improvement last week in Minnesota. Allen was sacked once on a safety blitz, and twice on straight, four-man rushes. Allen was 6 of 8 passing against the blitz for 50 yards against the Vikings.
“Yeah, I mean it’s going to be every weekend, I think,” Allen said about facing pressures. “That’s just going to be something different, whether it’s going to be on a third down or a trickle here or there.”
Story topics: Mike Pettine