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Packers fire defensive coordinator after three seasons

GREEN BAY – Green Bay Packers coach Matt LaFleur is firing defensive coordinator Joe Barry, the team announced Wednesday.

While Barry will not return, as first reported by the NFL Network, this will not be a housecleaning of the defensive staff.

‘We want to thank Joe for his commitment and contributions to our success the past three seasons,’ LaFleur said in a release. ‘These decisions are extremely difficult and Joe is one of the best men I’ve had the opportunity to work with in this league.’

LaFleur had been noncommittal on what he would do with Barry, whose defense lagged behind the growth of the offense this season and was a sore thumb for most of the season.

There was a lot to consider.

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There was the first 15 games of the season, after which the Packers ranked 23rd in yards allowed, tied for 17th in points allowed, tied for 24th in takeaways and 27th in third-down efficiency.

There was also the final four games where the Packers allowed just under 19 points per game, had 14 sacks, three interceptions and a defensive score.

And then there was maybe the most important factor of all.

If LaFleur made the move, what are the chances he could find someone who can do a better job without having to find a whole different set of players who fit the new system? And can he convince someone new to keep the assistant coaches on defense who he thinks deserve to keep their jobs?

Defensive coordinator candidates who could replace Joe Barry

The one undebatable fact is that there are many position coaches with defensive coordinator potential, as well as a few veterans with extensive coordinator experience, available for hire. At least 10 assistant coaches already have interviewed for open defensive coordinator positions and many more may follow as the head coaching carousel settles and more positions open.

If LaFleur were to consider veterans like former Washington coach Ron Rivera, former New York Giants coordinator Don ‘Wink’ Martindale, Carolina defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero, former Minnesota head coach and Buffalo defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier or former Jacksonville defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell, he might need to move quickly.  

It only took two weeks for Jacksonville to scoop up Atlanta defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen and, with Rivera and Caldwell set to interview with Philadelphia, according to reports, they might not be on the street much longer either.

Among the assistants who have already interviewed for coordinator positions, according to reports, are Baltimore defensive backs coach Dennard Wilson (Giants), Tennessee assistant head coach/defensive line Terrell Williams (Bears), Titans cornerbacks coach Chris Harris (Jaguars, Bears), Ravens pass game coordinator Chris Hewitt (Jaguars), Buffalo linebackers coach Bob Babich (Giants) and Denver defensive backs coach Christian Parker (New England).

Among others who may draw interest are Buffalo defensive line coach Eric Washington, New York Jets safeties coach Marquand Manuel, Houston passing game coordinator Cory Undlin, Dallas secondary coach Al Harris and San Francisco defensive line coach Kris Kocurek.

And, of course, there is Illinois senior football analyst and former Wisconsin defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard.

When LaFleur replaced coordinator Mike Pettine with Barry in 2021, he also interviewed Evero, Leonhard and Harris. He selected Barry because of his experience, fit with his current staff and recent involvement in the Vic Fangio-style defense the Los Angeles Rams were running.

What’s the future of the Packers defense?

As he evaluates this season, plus the two others Barry led the defense, he must consider whether the scheme is a good fit for the team’s talent. At the time of Barry’s hiring, the Fangio defense was all the rage, but in the past couple of years more and more coordinators are using pressure schemes to attack the league’s high-octane passing games.

The Packers faced a host of pressure defenses, including Martindale’s with the Giants, Steve Spagnuolo’s with Kansas City, Brian Flores with Minnesota and Tampa Bay’s with Todd Bowles. LaFleur was often complimentary about the challenge the defenses presented and it’s possible he could swing that direction.

The common thread in Barry’s failures to turn a defense with seven first-round draft picks into a top-flight defense was the inability to consistently stop the run. The Packers were usually among the top teams in the league in preventing pass completions of 40 or more yards, but they continually ranked at the bottom in run defense.

This past season, they ranked 28th in rushing yards allowed per game (128.3) and 23rd in yards per carry (4.42). In 2022, they ranked 26th in yards (139.5) and 28th in yards per carry (4.95) and in ’21 they ranked 11th in yards per game (109.1) and 30th in yards per carry 4.7.

This post appeared first on USA TODAY

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