I can see the steam coming out of the ears of many Green Bay Packers fans. They all wanted him gone a month ago. His calls on defense even had me on that bandwagon despite my desire to stay forever positive. Perhaps I should’ve stuck to my own philosophy like Barry has stuck to his as the Packers have gone 3-0 since I hopped on that ride to negativity. It did not take me long to hop off as the evidence is there that Joe Barry is saving his own job.
The first half of the season a lot of fingers were being pointed at the Packers’ defense for the ticks in the losing column. The evidence was there. Three 200+ yard rushing games for opponents, and the two down linemen debate in goal-to-go situations. All aspects that gave fans migraines having to watch this team drop six games in the first half of the season. The Packers defense still ranks 18th overall in yards allowed sitting in the bottom half of the league.
The defense was supposed to be the strength of this team in the first half of the season. They were the ones that were supposed to get it together and help a very young offense find its feet and keep the team afloat. They weren’t doing that.
But it wasn’t ALL their fault.
In the first half of the season, one of the most consistently frustrating aspects of the Packers’ play was the lack of complementary football. The offense was not helping the defense, the defense not helping the offense, and special teams was sprinkled in there a little as well.
How do they do this? It’s simple really. If the offense moves down the field with ease and scores, the defense can complement them by holding the opposition to a short drive or turnover back to the offense to keep them hot. If the defense is on the field for a long drive and gives up a score, outside of answering that score, the least the offense can do is get a few first downs. This will at least give the defense some time on the sidelines to take a breather and perhaps adjust to what they saw on the previous drive.
We weren’t seeing that at all at the start of the season. When the defense was beat, the offense would go three and out putting a tired defense back out there. If the offense put together a scoring drive, the defense would end up letting the opponent back downfield in no time to answer. It wasn’t pretty. But most of the time in the first half of the game, it was the first example. The defense was constantly on the field with the offense unable to muster more than a first down or two. An exhausted defense is going to give up points.
Something happened to this team in November. Suddenly the offense was consistently putting together 20+ point games and even scoring in the first half. So, what did that mean for the defense? They’ve only allowed an average of 17 points in the last five games of the season. But when you look at the yardage gained by an opponent, it’s still not the prettiest to behold.
So, what’s been the game changer? What has been delivering Joe Barry from the clutches of unemployment?
Red Zone Defense.
Following my Thanksgiving game recap on CheeseheadTV, while looking forward to the matchup vs the Chiefs, I highlighted that the Chiefs were ranked in the middle of the pack in red zone scoring, while the Packers at the time ranked 7th. If the Packers offense could score a few TDs and the defense could hold the Chiefs offense to field goals, I said the Green and Gold had a chance.
That is exactly what happened. In fact, that’s exactly what has happened in the majority of the Packers’ victories this season. It takes us back a bit to the Dom Capers’ defenses of the early 2010’s. The “bend don’t break” cliche was used a lot to describe these defenses. They may give up a lot of yards in the first 60 yards of the field, but they really tighten up in the final 40 and keep teams out of the endzone. It resulted in a Super Bowl one of those years, but you have to stick with it.
He’s keeping his job
Alright, let’s conclude the subject at hand. You don’t hold two top 10 offenses under 25 points two weeks straight and get fired. You don’t hold the reigning super bowl champions to under 20 points and lose your job. And most of all, you don’t do that with your top 3 cornerbacks being a 7th round rookie, a practice squad graduate, and a guy most known for special teams, and receive your walking papers.
Joe Barry has done these the last two games. Alongside an offensive breakout, it’s taken this season from “let’s pack it up and call it a year” to “we’re a playoff team.”
It may make me vomit in my mouth a little. It may make me cringe hoping we don’t regret this. But if the play by this defense continues, Joe Barry is keeping his job. And dare I say, he deserves to. We can only hope that the good defensive play continues from this point forward. Go Pack Go.
Greg Meinholz is a lifelong devoted Packer fan. A contributor to PackersTalk as well as CheeseheadTV. Follow him on Twitter at @gmeinholz. for Packers commentary, random humor, beer endorsements, and occasional Star Wars and Marvel ramblings.