If there is anything that has been consistent so far with this team, it’s that they have little conviction. The passive Packers defense have lacked the will or desire to direct terms on opponents. Too often they are allowing opponents to dictate terms. They are playing reactionary football. While that worked great in the mid 2000s (think Tampa 2), that isn’t the way to play defense in 2022. Even league rules make it hard to play defense, so sitting back and reacting to what offenses do puts a team too far on the back foot. Joe Barry and defense must make changes to get their killer instinct back.
The first step to improvement is better communication. The entire NFL is aware that at this point, the Packers defense can’t cover a crossing route. Until they can prove otherwise, they will get a heavy dose of them. During games, too often it appears that there are 11 separate players on the field, leading to breakdowns on defense. They are not, Rasul Douglas has said, “We’ve gotta play fast and play as one”. The poor communication has also bled into the run defense. The Packers haven’t been able to consistently fill gaps and players seem frequently out of position. Players are talking, but nobody seems to be listening. Coaches and players need to make sure they are on the same page.
The second step is going to feel silly to say, but the players need to start having fun again. The only game where the defensive players looked like they were enjoying themselves at all was the game in Tampa Bay. Not surprisingly, that was also their best defensive performance. Even then, it took until the second drive of the game for them to show any emotion at all. Players like Jaire Alexander and Rasul Douglas have such contagious energy. Let’s see more of that! Other players gravitate to that and will feed off theirs (and others energy). Hopefully a home game at Lambeau Field with the Packer faithful will be the spark that sets the flame of the defense.
The third and final step has little to do with the players, but rather the coaches. Most NFL coaches are extremely stubborn, and Joe Barry is no exception. He believes in getting pressure with four rushers and playing coverage. He also strongly believes in zone defense. The Packers have been good at getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks thus far, but the near constant zone defense is counter to the skillsets they have on defense. This is not a proposal to stop playing zone, but rather play to the strengths of your players, especially right now. Once their confidence is re-established, Barry can bring back the zone.
The defense isn’t broken, it just needs some adjustments. Improved communication and adjustments in play calling can lead to a more effective defense that the players will enjoy playing. If there aren’t immediately steps made towards making adjustments, Coach LaFleur is going to need to decide quickly who is the right person to lead the defense, because Joe Barry may not be that person.
Jordan is a lifelong Packer fan who grew up in Idaho and now lives in Seattle, Washington. You can follow him on twitter at @jordantwolf.