Dreams of Dom Capers or Mike Pettine running the defense flooded the minds of many Green Bay Packers fans in the first half of Monday night’s game. Jared Goff led the Detroit Lions up and down the field, torching whatever the hell the blueprint was for defensive coordinator Joe Barry.
Following the game, Packers head coach Matt LaFleur made an interesting comment about the halftime adjustments for the defense. But why did LaFleur wait until halftime to tell Barry his scheme was a disaster — and how did Barry not see that himself?
Some might shrug this off. It’s the head coach telling a coordinator to make adjustments, this sort of thing happens frequently. However, it’s alarming that it took LaFleur telling Barry his scheme was getting shredded for him to realize it.
Could he possibly be that naive after seeing the Lions put up points on three of their first four possessions, with one long drive after another? It’s baffling to see the scheme’s effect against the New Orleans Saints and then roll out those same ideas the next week and expect different results.
Week 1 was a disaster in all three phases against the Saints; that much is certain. Most fans agreed the offense’s struggles were abnormal, which turned out to be the case when they put up 35 on the Lions. The defense was the real worry.
Jameis Winston had all day to throw, Green Bay’s cornerbacks played a mile off the line of scrimmage, and nobody was creating pressure. Green Bay had zero sacks, no tackles for loss, and three quarterback pressures.
Barry said not to worry and that it would get better. But it was the same script in the first half against Detroit.
Green Bay’s cornerbacks were playing too far off the line of scrimmage way too often. On play after play, Barry refused to rush any more than the four guys up front. Nothing had changed.
Then LaFleur told him to bring more pressure or play coverage at halftime. Had he not, would Barry have kept going with the same mind-numbing strategy? Packers fans everywhere will rejoice knowing they didn’t have to find that out.
While the Lions didn’t score in the second half, it was way more about their unforced errors than it was Barry dialing up some gems. Sure, he brought more pressure, and that paid off, but it took LaFleur telling him to do so.
Look at the momentum-swinging plays in the second half:
The Lions trailed Green Bay 21-17 with 10:26 to go in the third quarter. Up to that point, Green Bay had registered zero tackles for loss. The Lions ripped off runs of 17 yards and three yards on two different occasions on that drive. Yet they decided to go from the shotgun on a 4th and 1 from the Green Bay 25-yard line. Goff had his check down, D’Andre Swift, wide open, but he opted to try for a difficult sideline pass instead that ended up incomplete and resulted in a turnover on downs.
Had the Lions gone under center and handed it off to Swift or Jamaal Williams, there wasn’t a soul in Lambeau Field who would’ve thought the Green Bay defense would hold the line. They had not stopped the Lions for no gain or a loss of yardage on any previous run plays in the game.
Goff fumbled the center-quarterback exchange on the first play on Detroit’s next drive after a Packers touchdown. Green Bay’s defense didn’t cause that; the rain did. Barry didn’t push the right buttons; it was the Lions being the Lions.
We can give credit where it’s due and note that the Packers’ defense looked better in the second half, but then again, it couldn’t have possibly looked any worse. It’s okay to still believe in the long-term plan and hold tight to a belief that this Barry-led defense will find a groove. The reality is that they have an immense amount of talent on that side of the ball and should be far better than what they have displayed in the first two weeks.
It’s hard not to think about Barry’s past, though.
In 2007 and 2008, Barry was the defensive coordinator for the Lions. They ranked dead-last in points given up and yards per game in both years. In 2013 and 2014, he got a second chance with Washington. They ranked 28th both years in yards allowed. Many will point to those defenses not having nearly enough talent to make anything work, which may hold some weight. If you’re a good enough defensive coordinator, though, the numbers can never be that low.
Yet here’s Barry getting a third chance with a talented bunch in Green Bay with Super Bowl aspirations.
His energy is infectious, and he seems genuine in his love of his players. If he brings that fiery mentality to his scheme, perhaps things will flip for this defense.
Wouldn’t you want to go down swinging instead of playing a predictable, conservative style where you know the result will be the opposition picking you apart time and again? Barry needs to figure it out quickly and trust his dudes to be aggressive.