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Pettine explains the value of having an opponent’s playbook


The bulk of a recent profile of Browns coach Mike Pettine largely was ignored due to the presence of quotes suggesting that the Patriots somehow misappropriated one or more copies of the Jets’ playbook when Pettine served as the defensive coordinator in New York. It wasn’t surprising, especially with one of the money quotes being isolated and expanded on the page.

“We know in places like New England, it’s only a matter of time that they somehow mysteriously end up with our playbook.”

Pettine then shared the story of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady bragging at Wes Welker’s wedding about New England having the defensive playbook.

“It didn’t shock me because [coach] Rex [Ryan] would give them out like candy anyway,” Pettine told Greg Bedard of “He gave one out to [Alabama coach Nick] Saban and I was like, ‘Don’t you know Saban and Bill [Belichick] are pretty good friends? I have a feeling it’s going to end up in New England.’”

In hindsight, Pettine and Bedard perhaps should have had a feeling that the anecdote would overtake the story, because it did. On Friday afternoon, Pettine shared with PFT details about what it means -- and what it doesn’t mean -- to have another team’s playbook.

“Most playbooks are very broad,” Pettine said via phone from Hawaii, where he is vacationing. “We’ll have 80 [defensive formations] in a playbook, 30 in a game plan. We’ll add six or seven new ones for a given game.”

Pettine said the defensive playbook shows core concepts. Without having access either to the game plan or to notes players take during meetings, the playbook has far less value.

But Pettine doesn’t claim that having an opponent’s playbook has no value.

“It’s a credit that [the Patriots] have been able to get that information,” Pettine said. “I didn’t mean to imply it was gathered illegally. . . . To me, it’s a sign of a smart team. We’re not actively pursuing playbooks, but when they fall in your laps, you’ll study it.”

Pettine emphasized that he wasn’t accusing the Patriots of stealing the playbook or any other wrongdoing, and he acknowledged that playbooks routinely end up on the Internet. Indeed, a reader sent PFT a copy of the Jets’ defensive playbook on Thursday after the story first emerged. While talking to Pettine, I rattled off terms from it, like Titan Package, Under Wasp Sting, and Under Bee Sting.

“That’s it,” Pettine said.

Pettine said he shared the Brady story with Bedard to illustrate the importance of keeping playbooks vague. Coaches assume that, somehow, a playbook will end up in the wrong hands. Though it will never provide the difference between winning and losing, if it can help even a little coaches want to study it.

“We’re all in the business of gathering information,” Pettine explained. “If I can get someone’s blueprint for how they build their offense or defense, of course I’m going to look at it.”

Usually, the playbooks migrate from team to team when coaches leave for other jobs. Far more valuable than a playbook, however, would be a past game plan used against a specific team, assuming the systems and personnel haven’t changed dramatically.

So while it can’t hurt to have a team’s playbook, it won’t help all that much.

“It’s only the skeleton,” Pettine said. “Not the meat on the bones.”