What To Do With The Packers Defense?

Packers defensive coordinator Joe Barry has struggled with the defense this season
Credit: Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

What should be done with the Packers defense? This has been a much-discussed topic among Packers fans this season. The defense was showing some signs of improvement last season, even though the rankings didn’t show it. Preston Smith, Rashawn Gary, Kenny Clark, DeVondre Campbell, Rasul Douglas, Dean Lowry, and Eric Stokes all had big seasons in 2021. The defense also came to play against the 49ers in the playoffs. There were a lot of reason for optimism entering the offseason.

Once in the offseason the Packers re-signed Campbell and Douglas. They also signed Jarran Reed and Keisean Nixon as free agents and drafted Quay Walker and Devonte Wyatt in the first round. Jaire Alexander was expected to be healthy for 2022. The Packers defense looked stacked from the outside.

During offseason work and training camp the defense looked ahead of the offense, outside of a few practices here and there. The excitement was building.

An Up-and-Down Start for the Packers Defense

Justin Jefferson tore through the Packers secondary. Most felt it was first game jitters — a lot of the regulars hadn’t played much in the pre-season and they stunk the first game of the 2021 season also, and we know how that season went. So, no one was too worried. Game two came and they trounced the Bears 27-10 and all was right with the world. Then there was the close win over the Bucs. Expected with Tom Brady at the helm, and this probably going to be a more defensive team.

Week four was the start of questions. It was an overtime win over a very mediocre Patriots team that had no passing game, and was starting Brian Hoyer at quarterback. He was lost early in the game and they had to go to a rookie. They still rushed for 167 yards and 5.1 yards a carry.

Then came the Giants game

A team that was a bit of a surprise early in the season, but Daniel Jones was playing injured and they were another team that lacked much of a passing game. The defense gave up 27 points and the Packers couldn’t keep up. The Giants had 125 rushing yards and three touchdowns.

This set off an unprecedented event in the Matt LaFleur area; five losses in a row. He had never even lost two in a row, let alone five. The offense was part of the issue, but so was the defense. They ended the streak by beating the Cowboys, but of course followed that up with two losses in a row, effectively ending their season.

So what do the Green Bay Packers do on defense?

The rest of the season still has to be played out. Many things could happen, but certain things need to happen, some should happen, and some should still be played out.

What needs to happen?
  1. Joe Barry and the entire defensive coaching staff needs to be fired. Barry is what he was in Washington and Detroit. Montgomery has not developed any of the defensive linemen. Rebrovich hasn’t seemed to have much of an impact. Gray/Downard need to go because the communication in the secondary has been terrible. Olivadotti helped turn Campbell into a good player and has gotten some stuff out of Quay, but hasn’t done much else. They need a clean sweep.
  2. They need to stop bringing in these retread defensive coordinators. Bring in someone young. Someone willing to be aggressive. Which is easier said than done, of course.
  3. The Packers need to marry the scheme to the players. Barry’s system seemed to be a square peg in a round hole situation with a number of the players.
  4. They need to move on from older veterans who are past their prime. Preston Smith, Dean Lowry, and Adrian Amos are all past their primes or have had slippage in play and are not worth bringing back.
  5. The Packers need to find some way to offload Savage, even if it means trading him for a 6th round pick and having to take a bit of a hit on the cap and paying a chunk of his salary (thanks for the idea Ken Ingalls). He has been bad the last two seasons and probably needs a change of scenery. Even if they just get a 6th.
  6. They also need to figure out what they are going to do at corner? They have two guys in Douglas and Stokes who are pure outside corners. They also have the highest paid corner in the league with Alexander, who of the three is best fit in the slot, but he doesn’t seem interested in playing there full-time. Someone needs to go or change position.
  7. Cut Jonathan Garvin. He is not very good. It’s time to move on.
  8. Light a fire under Alexander. He is not playing like pre-injury Jaire. He is “making business decisions”
Cornerback Jaire Alexander, the star of the Packers defense
Photo Credit: Stacy Revere/Getty Images
What should happen?

These are things that should happen, but if they don’t it’s not a big deal.

  1. The Packers should let Jarran Reed walk. He has helped the team most definitely, but has he done enough to be re-signed? No. Is he young with some upside to him? No. Should the younger guys get more snaps? Yes.
  2. Krys Barnes is the only restricted free agent the Packers should bring back on defense. While McDuffie started some games in Barnes and Campbell’s absence, Barnes is the superior player and allows McDuffie to focus on special teams.
  3. Of the unrestricted free agents on defense, two should definitely be re-signed with deserved pay bumps: Keisean Nixon and Rudy Ford. Both are indispensable on special teams and both are solid depth pieces on defense who can contribute from scrimmage. Nixon should be the kick returner.
  4. The Packers should bring in, either through free agency or the NFL draft, an edge rusher who can actually drop in coverage a little. This has been a problem with the defense for awhile. Teams know going in they aren’t dropping, so they can’t zone blitz.
  5. Draft an edge rusher fairly high. Preston Smith is gone, and Gary might start the season on the PUP.
What still needs to be played out?
  1. Justin Hollins play. He has played one game so far and gotten a sack, but it’s still too early to say. My bet is they re-sign him and bring him to camp, though.
  2. Should they re-sign Dallin Leavitt? He is a pure special teamer. The Packers already have Carpenter, SJC, McDuffie, Nixon, Ford, and Barnes who are all core special teamers. Do they need another one?
  3. Can Jonathan Ford help Kenny Clark? He is a big nose tackle. Get him out there and give him a chance.

Final conclusion on the Packers Defense:

I have my doubts that Gutekunst and LaFleur will do everything here, but if the important things are done, like dumping the staff and getting rid of dead weight, this could go a long way towards remaking the defense. The talent is there; it just needs to be harnessed correctly.

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