The Green Bay Packers have been struggling on defense this season, and a big reason for that is the departure of Dom Capers. Joe Barry has taken over as Defensive Coordinator and has struggled to find a scheme that works with his players.
The Green Bay Packers Defense has suffered early under Joe Barry. In the first four games of the season, the defense only had 10 sacks. Read more in detail here: packers defense.
While an offseason dispute between the Green Bay Packers and Aaron Rodgers seemed to jeopardize a possible championship run, a change in the team’s coaching staff has placed those hopes in jeopardy. Joe Barry, the Packers’ defensive coordinator appointed in February, is in charge of one of the league’s most staid, ineffectual units heading into Week 3 of the 2021 NFL season.
Barry’s shaky start raises questions about the veteran assistant’s ability to lead a defense. The Packers cannot reasonably hope to reach a third straight NFC Championship Game, much alone Super Bowl 56, unless they make major defensive improvements in the coming weeks.
Joe Barry had a rocky start in Green Bay.
Given the quality at his disposal, Joe Barry’s defense could hardly have played worse during the first six quarters of 2021. In the team’s debut game with Jameis Winston as quarterback, the unit gave up 38 points to a New Orleans Saints offense. Green Bay then surrendered 17 first-half points to a talent-depleted Detroit Lions offense that was without its No. 1 wideout.
In both games, two key issues have resurfaced: miscommunication amongst defensive backs and a lack of pressure on the quarterback.
In Week 2, the former was evident before the conclusion of the Packers’ first defensive series. The Lions used a swap idea between their weakside receivers at the goal line. Green Bay cornerbacks Kevin King and Eric Stokes botched the defensive handoff, converged on the same wideout and left Quintez Cephus in the end zone unguarded. Seconds later, Jared Goff connected with Cephus for the game-winning touchdown.
Every defense has coverage failures, but excellent units mitigate these problems by applying pressure.
The Packers have struggled in this area, with just three quarterback hits in Week 1 and only one more by halfway of the next game. Green Bay’s defensive front also features field-tilters Kenny Clark and Preston Smith, but star pass rusher Za’Darius Smith is presently on injured reserve with a back ailment. With Rashan Gary, a rising 2019 first-round selection, Barry should have enough personnel to generate results.
However, the pass rush has mostly been dormant so far, leaving the defense’s back end vulnerable.
Slow adjustments and personnel incompatibilities
On Aug. 28, 2021, in Orchard Park, New York, Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator Joe Barry watches a game versus the Buffalo Bills at Highmark Stadium. Getty Images/Bryan M. Bennett
Barry made changes in both of his first two games with the Packers, but only after the defense had taken a lot of punishment. In Week 2, after going two quarters without recording any significant pressure, he finally ordered more blitzes, which is usually frowned upon by defensive coordinators who employ two-high, zone-heavy systems like his. Green Bay was able to stop the bleeding by disrupting Goff’s rhythm.
Barry’s defense, on the other hand, benefitted from conditions peculiar to that game, such as heavy weather, which forced a Goff fumble, and a third-quarter Packers lead, which eliminated the danger of the run and play-action. The Packers’ difficulties was certainly alleviated by facing an offensive with such a restricted menu, but that game script will not be repeated every week.
More significantly, the strong finish does not erase Barry’s defense’s issues from the first six quarters.
When the Packers aren’t playing with a multi-score lead, his system, which was influenced by Denver Broncos head coach Vic Fangio and funneled via former Los Angeles Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley, hasn’t succeeded. In the absence of Za’Darius Smith, the defensive front hasn’t pressured the quarterback nearly enough, and the cornerbacks seem to be more suited for press-man coverage than the zone coverage that Barry’s scheme emphasizes.
Barry might potentially change his style to better suit his team, but it would push him even farther beyond his comfort zone. Barry’s previous stints saw him mostly working with Tampa 2 tactics and, more recently, the Fangio-Staley system, both of which operate differently from the kind of defense that the Packers’ players seem to flourish in.
Barry’s prior tenure as a defensive coordinator were underwhelming.
Many coaches have struggled at first with new squads but have recovered successfully. Barry’s defensive teams, on the other hand, have made little improvement or deteriorated during the course of two prior stints as defensive coordinator.
According to Football Outsiders, Barry’s defense had the lowest weighted DVOA (a version of the statistic that emphasizes recent play over season-long performance) in the NFL during his first season with the Lions in 2007. The unit started the next season at the bottom of the league and stayed there as Detroit went 0-16 for the first time in NFL history.
A similar reversal happened during Barry’s second stint as a defensive coordinator, which began in 2015 with Washington and ended a year later when the team failed to meet expectations.
Given Barry’s track record and early difficulties with the Packers, the road to recovery seems to be a long one. His coworkers laud his high-energy teaching style, but enthusiasm won’t solve miscommunications or pass-rush flaws. Green Bay is in desperate need of schematic answers, since the club has no meaningful way of strengthening the roster other than waiting for Smith’s return later in the season. Without a significant change, the defense will continue to give up big plays and scores in bunches.
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