ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — New Bills defensive co-ordinator Mike Pettine is still evaluating the high-priced, underachieving group he has inherited, but he saw enough from the opposing sideline last season to know "the cupboard is not bare" in Buffalo.
Having spent the past four seasons with the Jets, Pettine says Friday in his introductory press conference that the talent level in Buffalo was one factor in his decision to switch teams two weeks ago.
"There are some good football players here and we are excited to work with them," he said. "They are explosive athletes and playmakers and we are looking forward to building a system that is going to take advantage of that."
Pettine’s challenge is to transform a defence that last season finished 22nd in yards allowed, while giving up 435 points, the second-most in team history. Buffalo went 6-10 before coach Chan Gailey was replaced by Doug Marrone.
The defensive struggles were a surprise, considering Buffalo invested consecutive top 10 picks in defensive lineman Marcell Dareus and cornerback Stephon Gilmore and signed defensive end Mario Williams to a $100 million contract in free agency.
"I can’t really speak on what happened here," Pettine said. "I do know that we are going to bring a passion. We are going to work hard and the stuff we are going to do is going to highlight what we do well. There is no substitute for putting the work in, both on the field and in the classroom. I think that’s where a lot of people think there is some magic schematically. It really isn’t. Football is a game of a million little things.
"And we’ll try to get as many of those things taught as we can."
Pettine said it’s too early to declare what schematic changes he may implement. Dave Wannstedt switched the Bills to four-lineman, three-linebacker base formation last season after the team spent two years deploying — and drafting players for — a 3-4 alignment.
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. The Jets were known for being a 3-4 team the past four seasons, but Pettine said that is a "misconception."
"The cornerstone of our system is its flexibility and its multiplicity," he said. "We’ll be in 3-4, we’ll be in 4-3, we’ll be in 46. If you can draw up a front, we’ll probably be in it."
Pettine was more forthcoming about the attacking style the Bills will play.
"We’re going to play smart, we’re going to be tough, we’re going to be relentless," he said. "We’re going to put pressure on you. We’re going to force quarterbacks, we’re going to force offences to make very quick decisions. We’re going to take our best shot at you. We’re not going to be a read-and-react defence. That is not in our vocabulary."
Marrone has "always been an admirer" of Pettine’s and that he boarded a flight to meet with him immediately after being introduced in Buffalo Jan. 21.
"Having more of a background on the offensive side of the ball … you look for someone that has caused a lot of problems for offences around the NFL. Someone that you don’t ever want to play against," Marrone said. "When that was going through my mind, it kept coming around to one name."
Pettine said he received several calls from mutual friends urging him to go work for Marrone.
"It got to the point," Pettine said, "where I was literally answering the phone and saying if you are calling me to tell me how good of a guy Doug is and how great he is going to be to work for, I’d say, ‘I already got that. You got anything else?"’