The Green Bay Packers constructed their roster this season around a dominant defense, but that couldn’t be further from reality. The passing defense is relatively good — third-best in the NFL in yards allowed. However, it’s also the third-worst in rushing yards allowed. In DVOA, a metric that weighs the opposition, the Packers are just the 22nd-best defense in the league.
That’s not good enough for the investment. There are seven first-round picks and many free-agent additions on the unit. Considering defensive coordinator Joe Barry’s background as a defensive coordinator, he won’t be able to turn it around.
Barry had two previous experiences as DC — with the Detroit Lions, between 2007 and their 0-16 2008 season, and with the Washington Commanders, between 2015 and 2016. Add in one-and-a-half years of experience with the Packers, and the results are flat-out bad.
Defensive DVOA rankings by units coordinated by Joe Barry:
- 2007 Lions: 30th
- 2008 Lions: 31st
- 2015 Washington: 21st
- 2016 Washington: 25th
- 2021 Packers: 22nd
- 2022 Packers (through eight weeks): 22nd
When the Packers hired Barry in 2021, the justification was that there was no talent on those units. But it’s impossible to say the same thing now, and the results are not much better — if they are at all. The Packers may need more time to consider the long-term future of their defensive coaching staff, but there’s someone in the building who could help right now, and he works for Joe Barry.
“According to sources close to members of the Packers’ defense, players have grown frustrated with the defensive scheme and playcalling,” Demovsky wrote. “One source said there has been ‘a declining confidence in the defensive scheme and what’s being called, and it’s led to overall frustration with the defense.’ Another source confirmed that sentiment.”
When asked about a potential lack of aggressiveness from his players, defensive backs coach Jerry Gray said on Oct. 12 that they try to run Barry’s scheme, and a position coach can’t answer schematic questions.
It’s impossible to change the basic aspects of the scheme during the season. However, Gray may be hinting that he’d be willing to run the same scheme with a different perspective. Perhaps one that would better maximize what Green Bay’s defensive players can do.
The Packers don’t have a history of firing coordinators in-season. Under LaFleur, they fired special teams coaches Shawn Mennenga and Maurice Drayton after the 2020 and 2021 seasons, respectively, even though the unit was clearly flawed in the run up to the playoffs. They let defensive coordinator Mike Pettine go just after the 2020 season. Even under Mike McCarthy, in-season coaching staff moves weren’t the modus operandi in Green Bay.
But LaFleur must consider this the last chance to explore the current window. The Packers probably won’t retain Barry next year, so why delay a decision regarding something that’s not working?
Gray has been a defensive coordinator twice in his NFL career — with the Buffalo Bills from 2001 to 2005 and the Tennessee Titans from 2011 to 2013. His excellent performance in Green Bay generated a promotion from defensive backs coach only to passing-game coordinator in 2021, and that’s the best part of the defense.
Changing coordinators now would allow the Packers to go away from a defensive concept that hasn’t worked outside of very particular circumstances with the Los Angeles Rams in 2020. It’s also worth noting that many coaches from the Rams’ coaching staff in 2020 haven’t panned out elsewhere.
Then-defensive coordinator Brandon Staley hasn’t had much success as the Los Angeles Chargers head coach, and the defense is 16th in DVOA, even after investing a lot to improve in his second season there. The Detroit Lions just fired Aubrey Pleasant as their defensive backs coach and passing-game coordinator.
Ejiro Evero is the exception. The Packers considered hiring Evero in 2021, and now he’s the Denver Broncos DC. However, he adjusted the defensive philosophy to what the Broncos players do best; something Barry hasn’t done in Green Bay.
It’s not necessarily a long-term move. Gray could be an interim defensive coordinator, and LaFleur would have half a season to evaluate his work. A change is necessary now because the Packers’ defense has made mediocre quarterbacks look good, and it wasn’t competitive against great offenses, either. If the adjustments don’t work out, the Packers don’t have much room to get worse, so the risk is worth taking.