Green Bay Packers

Why Is Evero's Defense So Much Better Than Joe Barry's?

Photo Credit: Jonathan Jones-USA TODAY Sports

If you analyze what Ejiro Evero did last season with the Denver Broncos, schematically, it wasn’t much different than what Joe Barry ran with the Green Bay Packers. Both men were defensive assistants with the Los Angeles Rams and ran a variation of Vic Fangio’s 3-4 base, two-high heavy scheme. They were close (fourth and fifth) in rushing five or more players, and the Packers were even significantly better in pressure percentage. Both teams played soft coverage with their cornerbacks.

But the results couldn’t have been more different. Denver was better in basically every meaningful stat. The Broncos were:

  • 10th in DVOA, 9th in EPA/play
  • Eighth in success rate, fifth in dropback EPA
  • Fourth in net yards per attempt
  • 21st in rush EPA
  • And 11th in yards per running attempt

Meanwhile, the Packers were:

  • 20th in DVOA, 27th in EPA/play
  • 27th in success rate
  • 14th in dropback EPA
  • 24th in net yards per attempt
  • 31st in rush EPA
  • And 28th in yards per running attempt

In terms of investment and talent, there is little reason to see such a significant gap. And if the scheme is similar, what is the difference, and why is it so vast? It’s really difficult to find an exact answer, but the ability to adapt the scheme to the available players might be the secret.

“At the end of the day, you’ve got to start with the evaluation of your players,” Evero said when the Denver Broncos hired him as their defensive coordinator last year. “You’ve gotta see who’s on your roster. You’ve got to see what they do well. The scheme has got to fit your players. You can’t go the other way around with that.”

And that’s something Joe Barry has failed to achieve since the Packers hired him as defensive coordinator two years ago. One clear example is how he used Jaire Alexander in the first game against the Minnesota Vikings last year. Alexander spent most of the game in zone, covering K.J. Osborn, while Kevin O’Connell happily schemed Justin Jefferson around the field for nine receptions, 184 yards, and two touchdowns.

In the second game, Barry accepted his fate. Alexander followed Jefferson for most of the game, and Minnesota’s star receiver finished the day with a career-low one reception for 15 yards. Sometimes, things shouldn’t be so hard. The problem is that the Packers won’t have two opportunities against everyone, and game plans have to be more sound from the get-go.

Man coverage

Alexander is good at everything, but man coverage is absolutely his strength. Eric Stokes is out for the first four weeks, at minimum, but that’s a strong area of his game too, as it is for Keisean Nixon. However, Rasul Douglas is a better fit for Joe Barry’s philosophy. Even the most man-heavy teams in the league run zone coverages most of the time, so that shouldn’t be a problem.

Barry’s job is not to run man or be aggressive on every play but to adjust his scheme in particular situations to what is demanded and to what his players can do. The unwillingness or inability to do that is probably the reason why Green Bay’s success rate was so low and why Denver’s was so better.

Front games

The interior of the defensive line was a real problem for the Packers last year. Philosophically, the Broncos also ran a scheme with light boxes and prioritized the passing defense. Even so, the run defense was average or slightly below average, while Green Bay’s run defense was one of the worst in the NFL.

That’s something important the Packers tried to attack this offseason. They let Jarran Reed and Dean Lowry go in free agency, and Green Bay drafted three versatile players. Lukas Van Ness, Colby Wooden, and Karl Brooks were able to play inside or outside. Stunts and other upfront moves were tested during the preseason.

The main schematic reason

In terms of scheme, the main difference between Evero and Barry was the coverage disguises. And that’s a big part of how modern defenses act against these ultra-efficient offenses. Last year, the Packers were slightly above average in percentage of snaps disguising coverages, at 25%, while the Broncos comfortably led the league with a 45% coverage disguise rate. That strategy, according to Evero, allowed the front to create extra pressure.

“It’s a credit to our secondary guys and the fact that we feel good about covering, which allows us to do those types of things,” Evero stressed. “We have to get to the quarterback and feel good about our four-man rush and feel good when we bring pressure because we can cover.”

It’s impossible to know if the difference is communication, situational football, or disguised coverages. But the Green Bay Packers must be better under Joe Barry in 2023, and what Ejiro Evero does with such a similar approach has to be an example of how it’s possible to make it work.

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