Matt LaFleur knew he made a mistake two years ago by hiring defensive coordinator Joe Barry over Ejiro Evero. It’s an obvious statement at this point. If he could go back in time, he probably would make a different decision. He can’t do that now, but the Green Bay Packers had the opportunity to change the course of the defense and passed it up.
On Sunday, the offense was bad in the fourth quarter and didn’t help maintain the lead, but such a young unit is expected to have ups and downs throughout the season. The defense again failed to make positive plays and allowed long drives. Ultimately, that was decisive for the Atlanta Falcons to beat the Packers 25-24 after Green Bay entered the fourth quarter leading 24-12.
Joe Barry has had six seasons as a defensive coordinator and has never had a defense better than 20th in DVOA. In Green Bay, the lack of talent is not an issue as it was when he was in Detroit. Can you think of a unit in the entire NFL with so much investment and talent with worse results than the Packers’ defense? They have eight first-round picks and several free-agent signings.
The team is spending $104.6 million on defensive players and $72.6 million on offense. Of the three highest-paid offensive players, two (David Bakhtiari and Aaron Jones) didn’t play at all, and the third (Elgton Jenkins) left the game early in the first half with a knee injury. The offense also didn’t have Christian Watson, a promising second-round pick. Still, because LaFleur is great at scheming up plays and Jordan Love was highly effective in the first three quarters, they were able to score 24 points in a hostile environment.
The defense couldn’t offer enough. The first half was decent, especially with a Rasul Douglas interception. But Falcons head coach Arthur Smit adjusted in the second half to run more and to take the ball out of Desmond Ridder‘s hands. It worked, and Barry had no answer.
Bijan Robinson had 19 carries for 124 yards, 6.5 yards per attempt. The Falcons finished the game with 45 runs and 32 passes. Theoretically, it would indicate that Atlanta led for most of the game, but the opposite was true. The Falcons overcame a 12-point fourth-quarter deficit by running all around the Packer’s defense, and they didn’t make enough schematic adjustments.
At this point in his trajectory, though, everyone knows what Barry is. He might be a decent position coach, as he was working with the Los Angeles Rams’ off-ball linebackers. But he’s not good enough to be a coordinator. And Green Bay’s defense has much more talent than their weekly performances indicate. If everyone knows what Barry is and the Packers don’t make changes, then the responsibility falls on LaFleur.
Ostensibly, the Packers decided to keep Barry because they didn’t want to fire another defensive coordinator after moving on from Dom Capers in 2019 and from Mike Pettine in 2021. Changing coordinators so frequently would make it difficult for the Packers to find a good replacement on the market. But this is a flawed logic on multiple levels.
First, Barry is worse than Capers and Pettine, both statistically and schematically. Secondly, any coordinating job in the NFL is attractive. There are only 32 of DC jobs in the NFL, and there would be multiple interested candidates if the Packers wanted to act.
Third, and maybe most importantly, Green Bay’s mistake of keeping Joe Barry is causing a series of bad strategic decisions. The team is forced to invest heavily on defense to make up for the poor coaching while allowing the offense to go unsupported at times because LaFleur can compensate for that. Aaron Rodgers was, too, and the jury is still out on Jordan Love. Sometimes, though, it would seem smarter to stack the offense because the defense won’t deliver anyway when the team needs them the most.
The narrative around the defense isn’t new. It’s the way it’s been in Green Bay for a decade, at least. The inability to find good defensive coordinators and to move on when it’s clear the problem exists have held the Packers back. Jim Schwartz’s Cleveland Browns are solid proof of how much a competent defensive coordinator can put a talented defense in position to succeed.
It doesn’t take a brilliant defensive mind to take more out of the Packers’ defense than what Joe Barry has. But now it might be too late for this year.