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Mike Pettine embraces larger role on offense


Year 2 of the Mike Pettine era in Cleveland will begin with one slightly large modification: The coach is going to be heavily involved in every facet of the offense.

Pettine built his reputation coaching defensive line and linebackers with the vaunted Ravens, installed an innovative and wildly successful scheme with the Jets and elevated the Bills' defensive line to new heights.

But now, it's time to shift his focus.

"When you're a head coach, you're a head coach of the entire team," Pettine said. "You can't really have an excuse of, 'That's not my area of expertise.'"

At last week's press conference seated next to his new right-hand man, offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, Pettine mapped out a course of action. The head coach will assist DeFilippo in coming up with core concepts, especially because Pettine is more familiar with the skill sets of all of the players on offense. He'll also sit in on game-planning during the season.

Pettine's shift in strategy means a unique set of eyeballs could spark more ideas and innovative concepts – something he's already mastered on the other side of the football.

"I've been a defensive guy, and I do think there's not enough communication between offense and defense as far as what's out there and what works and, 'Hey, this is the pass protection that they're running," Pettine said. "I'm going to go across to the offensive guys and ask them, 'Hey, what are the tough pressures or tough looks against that?'

"I think that I need to be more of a bridge between the offense and our defensive staff and get that information flowing. We did some of it last year, but I think switching sides for me will really accelerate that and increase the amount of information that's crossing sides."

A major part of the reason Pettine feels so comfortable with immersing himself in the offense has to do with his defensive coordinator, Jim O'Neil.

After working through some September kinks, O'Neil's unit became the lifeblood of the Browns, building a reputation as a physical, ball-hawking unit. Cleveland finished second in the NFL with 21 interceptions and sent three members of the secondary to the Pro Bowl – Joe Haden, Tashaun Gipson and Donte Whitner. Up front, Paul Kruger, Karlos Dansby a barrage of rotating players on the defensive line and the linebacker unit did more than hold their own.

"Early in the year, I just threw [O'Neil] in the deep end, and he came out of it swimming, did a great job for us," Pettine said.

The offense, and specifically the running game, were a large part of the reason Cleveland sat ontop of the AFC North in early November, but the progress stopped in its tracks. After a stunning, 26-24 come-from-behind victory in Atlanta on Nov. 23 to move to 7-4, the unit hit an incurable snag and spun out of control and into the ground. Quarterback play, the running game and even the offensive line, to a degree, were inconsistent and, some of the time, outmanned.

First downs were hard to come by and so were points. The offense scored three touchdowns over the final five games; the defense scored two of its own against the Colts. The Browns averaged 18.7 points per game last season. The only team with a worse average to make the playoffs was the Arizona Cardinals.

Pettine and the Browns think they've found a solution: DeFilippo.

The 36-year-old coordinator indicated in his press conference that his offense will have more of an evolving identity, embracing both the run and pass – and getting playmakers the football all over the field in different spots.

And like O'Neil has built on defense, Pettine senses the hunger and vivacity from DeFilippo, a first-time NFL offensive coordinator. The two often spent late nights together with the Jets in 2009, and Pettine spoke of already having "chemistry" and "cohesion" with his new play-caller. One of DeFilippo's mentor's, Wake Forest head coach Dave Clawson, told this was a dream job for DeFilippo, especially because of how highly "Flip" thought of Pettine.

Cleveland's goal, with Pettine's new role and DeFilippo calling plays, is that this isn't just going to be a team to worry about on defense. The Browns are dead-set committed on building up their offense.

"[Our players are] going to come in here and see how passionate we are about this offense, the energy that's going to be up in front of the room," Pettine said. "It's going to be one of those situations where they can't help but be excited once they see the direction we're headed."

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