BUFFALO, N.Y. — Mike Pettine intends to bring his aggressive approach to Buffalo in a bid to transform the Bills’ high-priced, yet underachieving defence.
As for providing a spark to Buffalo’s sputtering offence, that’s now in Nathaniel Hackett’s hands.
Pettine is taking over as the Bills defensive co-ordinator, and Hackett will run the offence after new coach Doug Marrone filled the top two positions Thursday.
Marrone went with Pettine, based on the attacking style of defence he ran during his previous four seasons as the New York Jets co-ordinator.
"His defences are known for their relentless attacking style," Marrone said, in comments distributed by the team. "That’s exactly how I envisioned our defence."
On offence, the former Syracuse coach went with familiarity in having Hackett, — his Orange offensive co-ordinator — follow him to Buffalo.
"Nathaniel is on the same page with me," said Marrone, who went 25-25 in four years at Syracuse. "I felt he was the best offensive co-ordinator available, and that’s why I hired him."
The moves were announced three days after Marrone took over in Buffalo, replacing Chan Gailey who was fired after three consecutive losing seasons.
Buffalo is coming off its second straight 6-10 finish, has not enjoyed a winning season since going 9-7 in 2004, and has not made the playoffs in 13 seasons — the league’s longest active drought.
Pettine has 12 seasons of NFL experience, having also worked as a defensive coach at Baltimore. He was available after turning down New York’s offer to extend his contract last season.
In wishing Pettine well earlier this week, Jets coach Rex Ryan kidded that he hoped his assistant would wind up anywhere but Buffalo, New York’s AFC East rival.
"Rex and I are like brothers, brothers that fight a lot," Pettine said, noting he watched Ryan’s news conference and heard his comments. And yet Pettine still picked Buffalo.
"I love Rex, and am so thankful for the opportunity I had there," he said.
Under Pettine, New York’s defence has not ranked lower than eighth in the NFL in yards allowed. And that includes a top ranking in 2009.
He takes over a Buffalo defence that last season finished 22nd in yards allowed, while giving up 435 points — the second most in team history.
That’s well below the preseason expectation of a defence that included the off-season addition of Mario Williams, the defensive end who signed a six-year, $100 million contract in free agency.
"We’re not going to sit back and let offences dictate to us," he said. "So if you’re going to beat us, it’s because you’ve taken our best punch."
That’s a switch from former co-ordinator Dave Wannstedt, who rarely blitzed.
Pettine is accustomed to a three-lineman, four-linebacker formation, while the Bills went with a 4-3 look last season. He intends to go with both formations, and fit them to the strengths of his players.
Hackett will be responsible for running Marrone’s offence, which will include play-calling duties. That’s a familiar position for Hackett, who has worked under Marrone for the past three years.
The Orange offence went with an up-tempo approach in setting numerous school records. Syracuse posted an 8-5 finish, including a 38-14 win over West Virginia in the Pinstripe Bowl last month. The offence set records for yards per game (476), yards passing (3,757), first downs (328) and touchdowns passing (26).
Hackett is familiar with the Bills. He previously served as the team’s offensive quality control coach from 2008-09, with his final year in Buffalo coinciding with the arrival of starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Hackett inherits an offence that finished 19th in yards gained and 21st in points.
The unit’s production dropped as the season progressed. After the offence combined for 15 touchdowns in Buffalo’s first four games of the season, it managed just 21 over the final 12.
Fitzpatrick’s future is uncertain in Buffalo, and he’s due a $3 million roster bonus in March. General manager Buddy Nix has already said he plans to select a quarterback in the draft in April. He also hasn’t ruled out the possibility of acquiring one in free agency or through a trade.
One draft candidate could be former Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib, who is projected to be a second- or third-round pick.
"Ryan Nassib is a talented player," Hackett said. "I think right now, it is all about evaluating our Buffalo Bills team first."