Former Browns coaches Pettine, Shanahan square off

SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 22: Head coach Kyle Shanahan of the San Francisco 49ers walks down the sidelines during the second half against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Levi's Stadium on September 22, 2019 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 22: Head coach Kyle Shanahan of the San Francisco 49ers walks down the sidelines during the second half against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Levi's Stadium on September 22, 2019 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images) /

Mike Pettine and Kyle Shanahan were once on the Cleveland Browns together. Now, they face off with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line

Former Cleveland Browns head coach Mike Pettine is the defensive coordinator of the Green Bay Packers,  tasked with stopping Kyle Shanahan‘s San Francisco 49ers offense. Shanahan, of course, was the offensive coordinator for Pettine in 2014 in Cleveland, for a team that was 7-4 at one point. That team lost five in a row when Pro Bowl center Alex Mack went down, and ownership promoted the transition to Johnny Manziel to replace Brian Hoyer.

One sure-fire way to generate outrage on Twitter is to post that there might be some positive contribution from former coaches of the Browns. So far be it for your humble analyst to suggest that either of these coaches might be good at their job.

However, one or the other is going to the Super Bowl. Sorry fans, there is nothing that can be done about it. You may stop reading now if you prefer.

Pettine has gotten rave reviews in Green Bay, where opposing quarterbacks have a 19-17 TD-to-INT ratio. They also have sacked opposing quarterbacks 41 times. Those are the kind of numbers that Pettine’s defenses used to put up when he was with Buffalo.

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The 2014 Browns team was exciting to watch. Shanahan’s zone-blocking resulted in a strong running game based on Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell. They also had recycled veteran Ben Tate who made a favorable impression early on, but who eventually wore out his welcome complaining about his lack of carries.

Well, okay Ben, but we need more than 3.1 yards per carry. Tate was gone by midseason.

Brian Hoyer had several good games, leading some delirious fans to compare him to the second coming of Peyton Manning. That team had several targets worth throwing to, including Andrew Hawkins who led the team in receiving yards with 824, Taylor Gabriel, Miles Austin, and Jordan Cameron.

Josh Gordon even made a cameo appearance until he got caught with one of his innumerable drug infractions. But the team was built on a solid offensive line with Joe Thomas, Alex Mack, Joel Bitonio, John Greco and Mitchell Schwartz.

All of them would eventually make it to the Pro Bowl except Greco, and he was not that far off. That tremendous talent made the skill position players look really good, at least until Mack went down with a leg injury. News flash: Brian Hoyer is not as good as Peyton Manning, but behind that offensive line, he looked very good and was able to put up some numbers.

Pettine had been a defensive guru under Rex Ryan in Buffalo and brought over Jim O’Neil with him to the Browns as his defensive coordinator. That defense, it must be confessed, underachieved by giving up 337 points despite having starters like defensive backs Tashaun Gipson, Donte Whitner and Joe Haden who all made the Pro Bowl.

Up front they had Des Bryant, Ahtyba Rubin, Karlos Dansby, Paul Kruger, and Christian Kirksey. Players who went on to play well with other teams included Pierre Desir, Jaba’al Sheard, and Jordan Poyer.

Shanahan is one of those former offensive coordinators who calls his own plays. That’s a non-issue that is currently a point of contention in Cleveland because that is what Freddie Kitchens did. For that matter, Green Bay head coach Matt LaFleur is another one of those hotshot offensive coordinators who calls his own plays.

Shanahan resigned from his position in Cleveland after the 2014 season after composing a thoughtful and painfully truthful letter to the Haslams, explaining how things were being goofed up in Cleveland. Namely, the Browns had too much interference from both general manager Ray Farmer and ownership.

That was a hard message to hear, but it was probably what was needed at the time. The best teams have ownership own, the general manager manages, coaches coach, and players play. When everyone is doing their job it works out well. When they try to do other people’s jobs, chaos results, and that was pretty much the situation in Cleveland.

Then if you throw in Johnny Manziel….well, that pretty much carries a guarantee that the coach will be fired. It does not matter whether the coach deserved to get fired or not, it just had to happen. When Manziel crashed and burned, he created an impact crater that was so huge that coach Pettine and general manager Ray Farmer were not able to escape.

When the two teams met earlier this year, Shanahan’s offense dominated Pettine’s defense, with Jimmy Garoppolo throwing two TD passes in a 37-8 rout.  

Was there a rift between Shanahan and Pettine? Some sources believe so, but the principals say it was overblown. They had some visible disagreements on play calls on the sideline, but almost everyone has a few animated discussions for the TV cameras.

For that matter, Shanahan made a terrible call for the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl 51, calling for a pass play that resulted in a sack and lost opportunity for a field goal that could have iced a win for the Falcons. Instead, the Patriots beat the Falcons and Shanahan has said that that play call haunts him to this day.

One interpretation could be “see I told you so!” but it is probably the case that even very good play-callers call the wrong play sometimes.

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Nevertheless, there will no doubt be even some extra adrenaline for Sunday’s NFC Championship between the Browns former head coach and his offensive coordinator.  Let’s hope the sideline cameras give us some shots of the coaches’ reactions.