GREEN BAY, Wis. — Matt LaFleur wasted no time backing defensive coordinator Joe Barry on Monday even as frustrations mounted among the Green Bay Packers‘ players on that side of the ball.
He has no plans to make a coaching change.
“Oh, no, absolutely not,” LaFleur just hours after the Packers’ 27-17 loss to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday night.
The Packers’ struggles on offense were easily predictable, considering they traded their best receiver, Davante Adams, to the Las Vegas Raiders and tried to replace him with journeyman Sammy Watkins and three rookies who would need time to gel with quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
But a defense that featured seven first-round picks and several other high-priced free agents was supposed to help them survive until the offense found its way. Instead, Barry’s unit has contributed to the Packers’ 3-5 start.
According to sources close to members of the Packers’ defense, players have grown frustrated with the defensive scheme and playcalling. One source said there has been “a declining confidence in the defensive scheme and what’s being called, and it’s led to overall frustration with the defense.” Another source confirmed that sentiment.
LaFleur didn’t say directly whether defensive players have shared that feeling with him or other members of the coaching staff.
“Well, first of all, it’s impossible to please everybody,” LaFleur said. “Everybody has their own opinions, their own ideas. It’s like anything else in life. You have to get the staff on the same page, first and foremost, in making sure that everybody is confident in the plan and then you teach it to the players.”
The latest defensive breakdowns came on Sunday, when the Packers allowed the Bills to score on five straight drives (three touchdowns and two field goals) that spanned late in the first quarter to early in the third quarter. They allowed 24 points in the first half before it tightened things up in the second half, following a season-long pattern of playing one good half and one bad one.
At one point, the coaches pulled starting cornerback Eric Stokes from the game in what LaFleur said was done “just to change it up.” Stokes went back into the game on the following defensive series.
“I think we’d be foolish not to listen to our players at certain times,” LaFleur said. “Ultimately, we have to make the best decision for our football team in terms of how do you go about winning the game? You know, there were some great moments and then there were some not-so-great moments. It was great that we were able to get a couple turnovers.
“I think from a consistency standpoint, way too many explosive gains, some poor tackling. I think we need to be more physical. I think you look at the teams that are toughest to deal with in this league, especially from a defensive standpoint and physicality, it jumps out to you. There were moments where we’re not always getting that.”
Barry’s hiring in January 2021 to replace Mike Pettine came as a bit of a surprise considering his track record as a defensive coordinator. He had twice before coordinated defenses (Washington 2015-16 and Detroit 2007-08) and never finished better than 28th in the league rankings. The 2018 Lions went 0-16.
The Packers finished ninth in total yards allowed last season in Barry’s first year but struggled at times against the run. They’re ranked one spot higher, at No. 8, through Sunday’s loss to the Bills but once again rank near the bottom of the league (25th) in rushing yards allowed per carry and have had communication breakdowns in coverage that have led to explosive plays.
“There’s times we play good football and times we let it get away from us,” Packers defensive tackle Kenny Clark said. “Whatever it is, we got to correct it. We got to figure that out. I don’t really have an answer for it.”
Said cornerback Rasul Douglas: “I don’t know what it is, but we got to do something to win.”
Among the players who have drawn criticism is safety Darnell Savage, who was plagued by missed tackles.
“He’s got to be better in those situations,” LaFleur said. “We need him to, as a safety, you’ve got to clean it up. That’s something that we’re definitely going to address. Darnell knows it, too. Everybody can see it. We’ve got to be a little bit better and we’ve got to do a better job of drill it and putting that emphasis in that area because it hasn’t been up to the standard that we expect.”
Rodgers, who threw as much praise on the Packers’ defense as anyone in the preseason, said the offensive struggles haven’t helped out those on the other side of the ball.
“We’ve got to help our defense out a little better early in the game,” Rodgers said. “When we went on a run back in ’16, we started those games faster so we could play more one-dimensionally on defense. We just haven’t done that. We haven’t put up any points early in games to get our defense to have a chance to pin their ears back and get after the passer.”