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Questions Facing the Green Bay Packers Defense in 2023

In the first part of our three-part series, we took a dive into questions facing the Green Bay Packers offense for 2023. Today, we take a look at the other side of the ball. If 2023 is going to be successful, the Green Bay Packers defense will finally need to click on all cylinders. 
Green Bay Packers Defense

In the first part of our three-part series, we took a dive into questions facing the Green Bay Packers offense for 2023. Today, we take a look at the other side of the ball. If 2023 is going to be successful, the Green Bay Packers defense will finally need to click on all cylinders.

Questions Facing the Green Bay Packers Defense in 2023

Another NFL Draft and another first-round pick spent on the Green Bay Packers defense. Since taking over as the Packers general manager, Brian Gutekunst has used seven first-round draft choices on the Green Bay Packers defense. But sadly, for all the first-round capital spent, the defense hasn’t come close to matching the capital spent.

Entering last season, the defense was supposed to be the unit to carry the team. Sadly, that didn’t happen. With Aaron Rodgers now gone, it is a must for the Green Bay Packers defense to be the leader for this team. For the longest time, Rodgers was the deodorant of the Packers, covering up the stink of the Packers defense. But with Rodgers now in New York, and Jordan Love being handed the reins, it will be up to the defense to step up while the young Packers offense gels together.

There are many questions facing the defense this season. The most obvious one has to do with the man leading the defensive unit.

Joe Barry’s Last Chance

Matt LaFleur recently detailed why he kept Joe Barry as his defensive coordinator after many fans were hoping he would replace him. The biggest reason was that LaFleur felt the Packers defense got better late in the season.

LaFleur’s statement isn’t wrong, the Packers did show improvement late in 2022. But that has been the common trait in Joe Barry. Since taking over as the defensive coordinator in 2021, Barry’s defenses have struggled for good stretches in the first half of the season. Once he does finally adjust his scheme, the Packers defense has looked better.

But with a first-time starting quarterback in Love, the Packers aren’t allowed time for Barry to finally adjust his scheme to match his personnel. Many believe that the Packers offense will struggle this season while adjusting to a new quarterback. If that becomes a reality, it will be up to the defense to carry this team. Aaron Rodgers isn’t here anymore to bail out the defense.

Barry will need to hit the ground running. If he doesn’t, LaFleur is going to need to put aside his unfathomable loyalty to Barry and part ways with him. That might be farfetched since he hasn’t done so after two lackluster seasons.  The hiring of Barry was a mistake, keeping him might be an even bigger one. If the Green Bay Packers defense falters once again, fans shouldn’t blame Barry. The blame should be squarely on the shoulders of LaFleur. He knew what Barry was when he hired him. That being a very unsuccessful NFL defensive coordinator.

Can De’Vondre Campbell Bounce Back after a Down Season?

Signing De’Vondre Campbell in training camp in 2021 was a revelation for the Packers. Not only did he become a leader on the Green Bay Packers defense, but he was one of the best inside linebackers in 2021. His play helped him earn All-Pro honors.

Unfortunately for the Packers, Campbell’s 2022 season didn’t come close to matching what he did in 2021. Excluding interceptions (he matched his 2021 season with two), all of his numbers dropped. Campbell also missed time to injuries, something that didn’t happen in 2021.

The drop in production wasn’t the only thing that was shocking: it was his overall play that surprised many. Campbell looked sluggish and on many plays, he was constantly chasing from behind. His ability in pass coverage had been one of his calling cards. But last season, even that struggled.

The Packers have what they believe is a playmaker at inside linebacker in Quay Walker. But he is still dealing with maturity issues. The Packers not only need Campbell to be their leader, but they also need him to bounce back in performance. Campbell signed a big-money contract prior to 2022. Because of the Packers salary cap issues, the Packers don’t have the luxury to deal with another down season from Campbell.

Can the Safety Position be Held Together with Duct Tape and Bubble Gum?

Heading into 2023, the safety position will be the weakest for the Green Bay Packers defense. While the Packers have depth and quality at cornerback and even defensive line, the same can’t be said for the safety position.

If the season were to start today, the starting safeties for the Packers would be Rudy Ford and Darnell Savage. Ford stepped in for Savage when Savage was benched for poor play. While he showed some glimpses during his time at safety, at best, Ford is a stopgap. His overall best spot is on special teams, something he thrives at.

Savage didn’t earn back his starting spot because he played well once he returned from being benched. In his return, he played better, but still, it wasn’t where it needed to be. There are three factors why Savage will be one of the starting safeties in 2023. The first is the depth behind him is gas station toilet paper thin. The second is that he is a former Gutekunst first-round pick. And lastly, it’s because Gutekunst and the Packers picked up his fifth-year option last spring.  Savage is one of the worst tacklers in the NFL. He has all the physical traits to be a game-changing NFL safety, but can’t figure out a way to utilize them.

The Packers did sign former San Francisco 49er Tarvarius Moore and Houston Texan Jonathan Owens this off-season. It wouldn’t be shocking to see one or both eventually become starters. But similar to Ford, both would be stopgap answers at the position. It would help if the Packers had an upper-echelon coordinator to cover up the weakness at safety. But Barry has proven he isn’t that type of coordinator.

Can the Green Bay Packers Defense Keep it Together Until Gary Returns?

2023 first-round pick Lukas Van Ness won’t be given much time to adapt to the NFL game. With Rashan Gary still recovering from a season-ending injury and his expected return time up in the air, Van Ness might be forced to play immediately.

But even with being a first-round pick, it isn’t a guarantee that Van Ness will be much of a factor in his first year. If he isn’t, the Packers pass rush will rely heavily on veteran Preston Smith. Once considered a possible salary cap casualty, Smith has been a blessing to still be on the Packers roster. He stepped up in a big way in 2022 when Gary was lost. Until Gary returns,  there isn’t much doubt the Packers pass rush will start and maybe end with Smith.

Also returning are Kinglsey Enagbare and Justin Hollins. Enagbare, a fifth-round pick in 2022, was a key contributor to the Packers outside linebacker rotation. For a fifth-round pick, he did well, and more is expected from him in his second season. Hollins was picked up off waivers from the Los Angeles Rams midway through 2022. He played well even with being thrown right into the fire.

Even with Enagbare and Hollins returning, the key for the Packers pass rush will be Van Ness. The Packers love that he can line up outside as well as inside. If he can contribute enough until Gary returns that will be a big plus for the Packers pass rush.

Main Photo: Tork Mason – USA Today Sports


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