Well, here come the consequences of my actions. Thankfully, the consequences this time around are constituted as wins for the Packers, but I do owe Defensive Coordinator Joe Barry an apology. After doing nothing but tear apart his coaching and schemes all season, he has successfully shut me up in the best way possible.The Green Bay Packers have been showing a defensive masterclass over the last few weeks, starting with the 28-19 victory over the Chicago Bears back in Week 13. Ever since and including that game, the defense has only let up 17 points per game on average, which when compared to season statistics for other teams in the league, ranks 3rd. Just as much, one of these masterclass games came against the Los Angeles Rams, who had put up 51 points against the currently 3rd ranked defense just two weeks ago in the Denver Broncos match. The most recent? Against the divisional leader who, last time they played us, beat us 23-7. So what has made this Packers defense so special over the past couple of weeks? Let’s take a look at some adjustments to both scheme and possibly attitude that have been made in order to reach the level they have.
I will be so bold as to claim I was a part of the greater mass of Green Bay fans that have complained about Joe Barry’s use of the secondary’s talent. Save Eric Stokes due to an unfortunate injury early in the season, the Packers’ secondary is easily one of the most talented in the league. What is more unfortunate, however, is that despite having talents like Jaire Alexander, Rasul Douglas, and Darnell Savage on the team, Joe Barry has done little to prevent points from being put on the board up until recently. The adjustments that have been made have made a night and day difference. Starting with the off-coverage that Barry so adores, that has been finally seen as a down and distance tool for him, rather than an every down go-to call. As a result of this, the red zone defense has become a lot more stout, so although the Packers have actually allowed more passing yards per game over this win streak than usual, they rank T-6th for Red Zone Passing Touchdowns as per Lineups.com.
Not only is the scheming better across the board, but the use of Jaire Alexander specifically has improved drastically. As a Jaire Alexander fan, it shames me to say he has honestly been pretty quiet this season. Yes, he is still an elite talent, but I believe Barry not giving him the matchups he most often studies in film has had an effect on his game. In recent weeks, Alexander has been shadowing the opponents’ WR1s, and the contrast between his early to midseason performance and now is stark. The most significant of these matchups is obviously his bout against Star Wide Receiver for the Minnesota Vikings, Justin Jefferson, who ran a tear on Alexander in Week 1. This time around, Jefferson had only 1 reception for 15 yards on 5 targets. Guess who was on Jefferson the entire time, Jaire Alexander. Barry is finally figuring out how to use the tools he has and I commend him for it. The secondary is only the beginning, however, as the Packers have also held their own against the run these past weeks.
The Running Joke
It seems like a decade now that the Packers have been unable to stop the run, so it is difficult to pin this entirely on Barry, however he surely played his part given how much talent there is on the defensive front. That being said, like with the secondary, improvements have been made that seem to be helping defend the run when it matters. Firstly, rookie Defensive Tackle Devonta Wyatt has finally started to get more snaps, which appears to be creating an unmovable wall next to star veteran Kenny Clark. Not only that, but Barry has also been either teaching better play reading to the linebackers, or is scheming linebacker blitzes more often, considering Quay Walker has now also become a large part of the run defense now, often being the first contact. To help make the improvement clearer, it is important to know that on the season, Green Bay ranks 26th in the NFL in rushing yards per game with 141.8ypg. Over the past 3 weeks, they have only allowed 85.3 Yards per Game.
This is not a difference that happens overnight, but it certainly feels like it. Joe Barry has admittedly rallied this unit to be more physical at the line of scrimmage, and the passion of wanting a playoff spot has certainly done its part to light a fire under the players as well. With the consistent use of players like Devonte Wyatt and even Jarran Reed, who I consider to be very underrated in the run game, this defensive line has become a force that no running back wants to try and break through.
Next Stop Lambeau
This “D-Train”, as the Packers defense likes to call themselves, has to stop back home one more time to play the Detroit Lions on Sunday Night Football for their playoff spot. The Lions have proven that they are also on a hot streak this season, and they have had an offense not to be trifled with. For context, they had just beaten Chicago, also putting up 41 points in a 41-10 victory over the Bears this past weekend. They will either be playing for a playoff spot, or to spite us, depending on whether or not the Seahawks win in the afternoon slate. Either position is a terrible one to be in, as playing a Dan Campbell ran Lions team with a chip on their shoulder is cause for catastrophe. Nonetheless, with how the run defense has been performing, and the matchups of the secondary against the Lions wide receiver corps, I do like the odds. Finally, I would like to once again apologize to Joe Barry for my harsh articles this season. I was in an emotionally vulnerable position from watching too many Packers DCs screw over our team, and I took it out on you, so thank you for proving me wrong. Go Pack Go!