Green Bay Packers

Jeff Hafley's Exotic Blitzes Can Bring Out the Best In Green Bay's Defense

Photo Credit: Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

The 2024 Green Bay Packers defense will experience a significant shift from the past 15 years. Under Jeff Hafley’s guidance, they will transition from a 3-4 to a 4-3 scheme. However, they will mainly employ a 4-2-5 defensive look.

Hafley has emphasized his desire for Green Bay’s defense to be aggressive and attack the ball and the line of scrimmage. His approach reflects a mentality and playing style that will benefit the Packers in all three phases of the defense.

Hafley is known for his creative, exotic looks when bringing pressure. The Packers have the personnel on the defensive line and at linebacker to bring Hafley’s pressure schemes from Boston College to the NFL.

Rashan Gary and Lukas Van Ness are accustomed to lining up inside and outside during their college careers and possess the physicality and explosiveness to bull rush from the interior. Gary and Van Ness could be valuable pieces in double A-gap pressure looks. Gary is entering his sixth NFL season and has primarily lined up outside as a Packer. Van Ness played 366 snaps as a rookie and often rotated with Gary and Preston Smith on the outside. Moving Van Ness inside could increase his playing time and add versatility to Green Bay’s defense.

The unpredictability of Hafley’s blitz packages will likely create one-on-one matchups for Green Bay’s front seven. Kenny Clark is coming off a career-high 7.5 sacks in 2023. Devonte Wyatt recorded 45 total pressures and 5.5 sacks last year. Preston Smith and Rashan Gary combined for 17 sacks and 105 pressures, while Karl Brooks and Lukas Van Ness had nine sacks and 43 pressures. These players can cause havoc in the backfield if left one-on-one with offensive linemen, not to mention Quay Walker and Edgerrin Cooper blitzing from the linebacker position.

Green Bay demonstrated a strategy for their linebacker position by selecting Edgerrin Cooper with the 45th-overall pick in the 2024 draft. Alongside Quay Walker, Cooper brings high-quality athleticism to the team. Similar to box-to-box center midfielders in soccer, they possess the versatility to rush the quarterback, tackle effectively, and cover in pass defense. Ultimately, they are playmakers capable of impacting all three phases of the game.

Since entering the league in 2022, Quay Walker has amassed 131 pass-rushing snaps, resulting in five sacks, four hits on the quarterback, and 18 hurries. At Texas A&M last year, Cooper earned an elite 86.4 pass-rush grade from Pro Football Focus. His performance included 10 sacks, five hits on the quarterback, and 12 hurries. Green Bay’s front seven is coming off a solid statistical season in 2023. With Walker and Cooper expected to contribute to the pass rush, offenses will face a daunting challenge in trying to gameplan against such a formidable defensive unit.

According to PFF, the Packers had the 13th-best pass-rushing unit last year despite a defensive scheme that often saw cornerbacks positioned 20 yards away from the line of scrimmage, allowing receivers an easy five-yard cushion. Under a more unpredictable scheme up front, and with Jaire Alexander, Eric Stokes, and Carrington Valentine able to play more physically at the line of scrimmage and disrupt receivers’ timing from the outset, Green Bay’s pass rush will have ample opportunities to create chaos in the backfield.

Fans should brace themselves for Green Bay’s defense to experience growing pains, much like the offense did in 2023. There will inevitably be an adjustment period with a new defensive coordinator, a fresh scheme, and three new starters, including both safeties. However, the NFL season is lengthy, providing ample time to iron out mistakes and gel as a unit. By December and January, the Packers’ defense has the potential to hit its stride and play its best football when it matters most.

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