In the first year of defensive coordinator Joe Barry, the defense for the Green Bay Packers saw exponential gains across all major statistical categories, and in turn, also had a select few players break out to help support the unit’s strong performance. Many times the defense was the unit that bailed out Green Bay, and Barry looks to try and repeat that success heading into Year 2.
Salary cap constraints will likely put a focus on this defense in the offseason, as players like Preston and Za’Darius Smith, Adrian Amos, and Rasul Douglas may ultimately be suiting up in different colors next year. Barry’s transformation in this unit was remarkable, as he was able to conjure together a solid unit performance from mostly the guys already in house, outside of a few signees.
Another year, another solid campaign for DT Kenny Clark, the anchor of this defensive line unit. Combined with Dean Lowry and Tyler Lancaster’s strong performances, and you have the makings of a DL that consistently forced its way into the opposing backfield.
Clark enjoyed another successful year due to the performances of those around him, as Lowry and Lancaster (among others) were able to take pressure off of Clark and limit him in his constant double-teams that he faced. The double-team opportunities were still quite plentiful for Clark to handle, but the other DL members were able to take advantage of their single teams and wreak havoc at the point of attack.
Lancaster, Chauncey Rivers, and Jack Heflin are the only free agents from this unit this offseason, meaning there will still need to be depth additions made at some point.
Welcome to the Rashan Gary show, folks – tickets are quite expensive now.
With both of the Smiths facing injuries question marks, it was Gary who stepped up into the spotlight and showed his worth, adding his name into the pool of some of the better edge rushers in the league. His 9.5 sacks placed him 18th-best in the NFL this year, and Gary will continue to prove his worth in his starting role on the edge.
Preston Smith experienced a career resurgence this season, falling one-half sack short of Gary’s total from 2021. Having played in 16 regular-season games, Preston Smith teamed with mid-season signee Whitney Mercilus (3 sacks) and helped set the edge opposite Gary.
Za’Darius Smith only played in two games this year, as a nagging injury forced him to miss time – having earned one sack in his limited time showcased that he still can be an issue in the trenches, but he likely will be playing elsewhere next year with his large salary figure.
On the inside Krys Barnes had one of his better seasons in the NFL as one of the middle ‘backers for Barry’s system – while overshadowed by De’Vondre Cambpell’s performance, Barnes was a pleasant surprise this year heading into free agency.
Campbell was arguably the league’s best value signing this offseason, turning in an All-Pro nod (but no Pro Bowl invite), and he likely will command a pricey deal this offseason that the Packers will be challenged to meet to help keep one of their best front seven members from leaving.
Having only suited up for four games due to injury, Jaire Alexander’s presence was much missed at times, but both rookie Eric Stokes and scrap-heap find Douglas excelled in their expanded roles. With Alexander due for an extension coming up, he will be one of the top priorities for this offseason to secure for a long time.
Stokes was awesome as a first-round CB, having been forced into the CB1 role with Alexander being out. Shortcomings that were common at the beginning of the year quickly disappeared as Stokes got his feet wet, and he profiles as a fantastic long-term option for this team’s secondary.
Douglas was a reclamation project that Brian Gutekunst found, and he was able to contribute at a level no one thought possible – earning Pro Bowl alternate status. His offseason comments paint a picture of him wanting to return next year, but a sizable pay bump is in his future too, something the Packers may not be able to swing.
Other members of the defensive secondary group, like Amos, Darnell Savage, and others, produced average-to-mediocre seasons this year, overshadowed by the standout performances of others. Amos was the best member of this ‘later-mention group’ and would help the salary situation if extended this offseason, but he too could be on the way out if decided his performance does not justify his salary impact.뿓뿓뿓
Mike Johrendt has been an avid fan of the Packers ever since he can remember. He is now a writer at PackersTalk and you can follow him on Twitter at @MJohrendt23