Another Green Bay Packers game and another Green Bay Packers loss. Their 27-17 loss to the Tennessee Titans on Thursday night drops the team to an uninspiring 4-7 record. Some expected the Packers, at the very least, to be contenders for another NFC North title heading into this season. But instead, the Packers turned out to be frauds. There are so many things that have gone wrong with Green Bay. However, the biggest failure, and disappointment, has been the play of the Green Bay Packers defense.
Green Bay Packers Defense Failing In Every Way
Much was written about how great the Green Bay Packers defense looked in training camp leading up to this season. If you read the many pieces written, you would have thought the Packers were fielding a defense comparable to the 1985 Chicago Bears.
While the pieces written painted a picture of a defense that could stop any high-powered offense, it was all a mirage. Their success in training camp might easily be explained. They were practicing against a below-average Packers offense.
But when real games began, that defense that shined so brightly in training camp, never materialized. Instead of having a possible top-ten defense, the Packers rolled out another lackluster defensive unit.
There are many reasons the Green Bay Packers defense has failed so badly this season. But the biggest reason stems from a decision Matt LaFleur made prior to the 2021 season.
Missing Out Twice on Hiring the Right Person
After the completion of the 2020 season, LaFleur decided to part ways with then-defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. The decision was well overdue, something that has been a constant for LaFleur, waiting too long to make a change.
His top choice to replace Pettine was University of Wisconsin defensive coordinator, Jim Leonhard. Leonhard, a ten-year NFL veteran player, has made Wisconsin’s defense one of the best in the nation since becoming their defensive coordinator. Unfortunately for Leonhard, and Packers fans, Leonhard decided to stay at his alma mater.
Still, even with missing out on Leonhard, LaFleur still had a chance to hire the right person. With Leonhard bowing out, it came down to two Los Angeles Rams assistants, Joe Barry and Ejiro Evero. Barry served as the Rams linebackers coach and was once the defensive coordinator for the Detroit Lions and the then Washington Redskins. Barry was a failure at both stops. Evero, much younger than Barry, had never served as a defensive coordinator but did an excellent job as the Rams secondary coach.
LaFleur chose to go with the two-time failed defensive coordinator. Evero went on to stay on one more season with the Rams before being named the Denver Broncos defensive coordinator prior to this season. Since taking over the Broncos defense, Evero has coordinated one of the best defenses in the NFL. Currently, they rank second in total defense in the NFL.
Once a Failure, Always a Failure
So, what did LaFleur end up getting with the hiring of Barry? Well, he got a two-time failed NFL defensive coordinator. Scratch that. Make that a three-time failed NFL defensive coordinator.
You get what you paid for and that’s exactly what LaFleur has gotten. Since becoming the Packers defensive coordinator, Barry has been one of the worst defensive coordinators in the NFL. His lack of in-game adjustments is well-documented. His lack of adjustments has been so bad that at times LaFleur has had to step in and make Barry adjust.
The marriage between Barry and the Packers defensive personnel seemed like an odd one at the jump. While he did spend a couple of years working with linebackers who played in a 3-4 defense, Barry’s background is more from a “Tampa 2” style of defense. That zone-heavy defense doesn’t fit the personnel the Packers have. The personnel the Green Bay Packers defense has is a better fit for a more man-to-man-dominated defense.
Barry’s desire to run more zone defense has cost the Packers this season. No matter if it has been LaFleur telling Barry to adjust or Barry finally waking up, when he does finally adjust, which is rare, the damage has already been done.
It is well overdue that LaFleur fire Barry. The fact that LaFleur still hasn’t doesn’t put LaFleur in a good light. Barry was a bad hire, time to admit it and cut bait. If not, this nightmare will just continue.
Defensive Assistants Might Want to Polish Up Their Resumes
It might be best for Matt LaFleur just to clean house when it comes to his defensive staff. However, it is doubtful that LaFleur has the guts to do so. Still, it wouldn’t be surprising if Barry has company when (or if) he is fired.
Jerry Gray, secondary coach/passing game coordinator, and Jerry Montgomery, defensive line coach/run game coordinator, could find themselves unemployed at the end of the season. The Packers secondary and defensive line were supposed to be two of the deepest positions on the Packers defense leading up to this season. However, both units have greatly underperformed this season.
Gray’s secondary, littered with first-round picks, has struggled throughout the season. It very well could be Joe Barry’s coverages that he is calling that are driving the failure. But even with knowing that, Gray’s secondary should be performing better. On Thursday night, they allowed pedestrian Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill to throw for over 300 yards. This wasn’t a one-time deal either. The Packers secondary has been gashed by average to below-average quarterbacks throughout the season.
With the free agent addition of Jarran Reed and first-round pick Devonte Wyatt, the Packers defensive line was expected to be better this season. But that hasn’t been the case. Reed has started to play better as of late, but early in the season, he was nowhere to be found. Wyatt has done close to nothing this season. It appears that he won’t contribute much this season.
Inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadatti, safeties coach Ryan Downard, and outside linebackers coach Jason Rebrovich haven’t had much success with the units they are in charge of either. Just like with Gray and Montgomery, these three coaches shouldn’t feel good about keeping their jobs as well.
Key Players Taking a Step Backwards
The Green Bay Packers defense has seen expected key contributors regress this season in Barry’s defense. Again, part of that is due to Barry not putting them in positions to succeed. But these players also need to take responsibility for the Packers struggles.
Players like cornerback Jaire Alexander, safety Darnell Savage, and defensive linemen Kenny Clark have all struggled, which has been a big part of the Packers defensive failures. Alexander is the highest-paid cornerback in the NFL. But his play hasn’t matched what he is being paid. Barry hasn’t utilized him as he should, but still, Alexander doesn’t look anything like he has in seasons past.
As mentioned earlier, Clark was finally given some help on the defensive line. But instead of taking advantage of it, his play has slipped. For many seasons it has been written that Clark is one of the better young defensive linemen in the NFL. Yet he hasn’t looked anywhere near the player he has been in seasons past. The Packers have struggled to stop the run and that starts with Clark’s play or lack thereof.
At this point in Savage’s career, he is just a warm body on the back end of the Packers defense. You aren’t going to find a worse tackler in the NFL than Savage. Along with being an awful tackler, his coverage skills are just as bad. Brian Gutekunst traded up in the 2019 NFL Draft to select Savage. He doubled down on that mistake by picking up his fifth-year option on his rookie contract. At this point, the Packers are better off playing Rudy Ford over Savage at safety.
After strong showings in 2021, linebacker De’Vondre Campbell and cornerback Rasul Douglas were both given new big-money deals. While it is hard to blame Gutekunst for making the deals, you have to think he might have buyer’s remorse.
In 2021, Campbell became the inside linebacker the Packers had been in search of for so many seasons. He made plays, was a leader, and rarely missed a snap. But this season, before he was injured, he wasn’t near the player he was in 2021. He constantly missed tackles and was constantly a step behind the play. He and rookie Quay Walker were expected to make up one of the best inside linebackers combinations in the NFL. But due to Campbell’s poor play, those expectations never became a reality.
Rasul Douglas was picked up midway through the 2021 season and turned out to be one of Gutekunst’s best signings ever. But this season, Douglas hasn’t come near the play he displayed in 2021. At the start of this season, Douglas was stuck in a position he had no right playing, that being the slot cornerback. But even after Eric Stokes went down with an injury, and Douglas was moved back to his natural position, the boundary corner, he still hasn’t played well.
Campbell and Douglas were both paid like players who were expected to be key contributors. But like many of the Packers defensive players, they haven’t. That has been the underlying theme of the 2022 Green Bay Packers defense. That being expectations not being met.