Green Bay Packers

LaFleur Put A Target On His Back By Retaining Joe Barry

Photo credit: Mark Hoffman (Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel via USA TODAY Sports)

One of the Green Bay Packers‘ biggest offseason questions has already been answered — and the answer is not necessarily what Packers fans expected to hear. During his Monday press conference, Matt LaFleur announced that they will retain Joe Barry as the defensive coordinator for 2023.

“That’s what I anticipate, yes,” LaFleur said when asked if Barry would keep his job. “I don’t really anticipate a whole lot, if any, staff changes at all.”

“I do believe in the people, not only in the locker room, but our coaching staff,” LaFleur added. “It’s my intention to try and have everybody back. I think continuity is a big part of having success in this league. When you feel good about the people, then you gotta work to improve. We have to challenge each other.”

The main argument for keeping Barry is continuity. But with that decision, LaFleur puts a big target on his own back. If things don’t improve defensively next season, especially considering how much the front office has invested in defensive personnel, LaFleur will be deservedly questioned about his choices.

The Packers hired LaFleur in 2019. One of his first actions was to retain defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, who Mike McCarthy had hired one year earlier. It was a fair and expected decision because the defense had improved after firing Dom Capers. The Packers experienced a decrease in defensive performance in the two following years, though. Therefore, LaFleur decided to fire Pettine and hire his own guy.

The option to keep Barry is a consequence of that. LaFleur didn’t want to part ways with his second defensive coordinator, the one he chose by himself, and with the system LaFleur wanted to run. Above all else, he passed on Ejiro Evero, who later did a great job as the coordinator of the Denver Broncos. Because of those factors, it makes sense to retain Barry and expect that the late-season surge is sustainable.

But the overall results are bad, and the Packers shouldn’t expect that some decent performances against bad offenses and bad quarterbacks will transform into a dominant unit.

In 2022, the Packers weren’t better than 17th in any defensive overall ranking. They were better in some passing defense rankings, but the entire defense has been well below average. Green Bay was 17th in points, 17th in yards, 28th in yards per play, 20th in takeaways, and 27th in sacks. Rankings that show team performance all agreed that the unit played poorly. They were 20th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA, 21st in PFF grade, and 20th in EPA.

The Packers spent more money than all but one team on their defense. They also used first-round picks on Kenny Clark, Rashan Gary, Jaire Alexander, Quay Walker, Eric Stokes, Darnell Savage, and Devonte Wyatt. They also re-signed important free agents such as De’Vondre Campbell and Rasul Douglas and signed defensive lineman Jarran Reed. It’s sadly impressive to be this below average with that much talent on the team.

Moreover, it’s not a singular problem. Green Bay is Joe Barry’s third turn as a defensive coordinator. He was the Detroit Lions DC in 2008 when they were 0-16. He spent two years in Detroit, 30th in DVOA in 2007, and 31st in 2008. Later, he was the Washington Commanders DC for two years: 21st in DVOA in 2015 and 25th in 2016. Now, in his two years in Green Bay, his DVOA rankings were 22nd and 20th. The 2022 job was literally the best performance of his career as a DC. Is this ceiling high enough for the Packers?

The situational awareness was also baffling. One play in particular shows how bad it was the entire season. A fourth-and-two for the Lions in Week 18, with the game on the line. The defensive backs were in off coverage, five yards from the line of scrimmage, and Jared Goff converted it with an easy pass to D.J. Chark.

LaFleur is a good head coach. He had three impressive years to start his tenure in Green Bay, and even this year, he kept his team together after a 4-8 start to be alive in Week 18. It wasn’t perfect, and LaFleur isn’t perfect, but he is a great leader and a good offensive mind. However, he also answers for his decisions to build the staff and has made several mistakes hiring wrong coaches. By unnecessarily doubling down on his mistake with Barry, he creates a real risk for his long-term job security.

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