Matt LaFleur anticipates retaining Joe Barry as Packers defensive coordinator in 2023

Ryan Wood
Green Bay Press-Gazette
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GREEN BAY – Whatever Matt LaFleur saw from his defense this past season, it was enough for coordinator Joe Barry to keep his job for a third year.

Barry’s status seemed to become increasingly tenuous as the Green Bay Packers defense, a unit expected to be dominant when training camp opened, instead slumped through most of 2022. Its lowlight came in late November when the Packers allowed 40 points and 363 rushing yards in a loss at the Philadelphia Eagles, including more than 100 rushing yards from quarterback Jalen Hurts in the first quarter.

The defense surged after leaving Philly, inspiring the Packers’ four-game winning streak that gave them a playoff shot despite entering December with a 4-8 record. LaFleur said the Packers defense was good enough to win Sunday night against the Detroit Lions, limiting one of the NFL’s top-five offenses in a 20-16 loss.

“I think although it wasn’t always pretty,” LaFleur said, “I did think we started to improve as the year went on. I thought we saw more of an identity.”

Packers coach Matt LaFleur said he doesn't anticipate replacing defensive coordinator Joe Barry.

LaFleur's reasoning for retaining Barry is reminiscent to a year ago. The Packers closed 2021 with a dominant defensive performance against the San Francisco 49ers, holding coach Kyle Shanahan's offense to six points in an NFC divisional playoff loss at Lambeau Field. It was the impetus for skyrocketing expectations that didn't materialize until it was too late in 2022.

By any measure, the Packers defense that included seven first-round picks failed to reach its potential this season, finishing 17th in the league with 336.5 yards allowed per game and tied for 17th with 21.8 points allowed. LaFleur noted the improvement for retaining Barry.

Over the final five games, they allowed 17.6 points and 322 yards per game. That would have ranked eighth and second in the league, respectively. The defense also became more opportunistic, generating 12 takeaways in the four-game winning streak. The Packers did not force a turnover against the Lions on Sunday, though that was hardly surprising. The Lions had only 15 turnovers all season, fewest in the NFL.

LaFleur said he anticipates retaining his entire coaching staff, not just Barry. That includes quarterbacks coach Tom Clements, who returned from retirement before the season to rejoin Aaron Rodgers. Though he has yet to conduct exit interviews with his assistant coaches, a process he hopes to complete in the next 10 days, LaFleur believes continuity on his staff is important for the Packers to rebound next season.

“I don’t anticipate a whole lot, if any, staff changes at all,” LaFleur said. “I do think there’s something to the guys we have in this building. Certainly, I think there’s a lot of things that all of us can improve upon, most notably ourselves. But I do believe in the people not only in the locker room but our coaching staff. Are there a lot of things we have to improve upon? Absolutely. No doubt about it. But it’s my intention to have everybody back, and continuity is a big part of having success in this league.”

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One change LaFleur has entertained making to his staff is welcoming back former offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett. It’s unclear what role Hackett might have if LaFleur hires him. Hackett left a year ago when the Denver Broncos hired him as head coach, but he was fired before the conclusion of his first season with a 4-11 record.

LaFleur was unsure if Hackett would join his staff when he spoke with Hackett after the Broncos fired him.

“You guys know how I feel about Nathaniel and the job that he did here,” LaFleur said, “but just getting started into the evaluation phase. I did talk to him after he got let go in Denver, and I know that he needs some family time as well.”

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After Sunday night’s loss, LaFleur vowed to evaluate what went wrong this season with a “fine-toothed comb.” He declined to divulge what issues he felt needed to be fixed, but LaFleur said he would consider delegating play calling on offense if it was best for his team.

If LaFleur relinquishes play-calling duties, he would make the same decision former Packers coach Mike McCarthy chose after his team lost in the NFC championship game at Seattle in 2014. McCarthy, hoping to take a broader view in all phases of the game, tabbed Clements to call plays for the offense in 2015. The experiment lasted only 12 games before McCarthy resumed calling plays.

“As far as the play calling is concerned,” LaFleur said, “yeah, that’s crossed my mind. I want to do whatever’s best for us to have success. If we feel like that’s the best way for us to win games, I would 100% hand that over."

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LaFleur said the challenge is to prevent continuity on his staff from making his team stagnant. He indicated the Packers fell behind the NFL’s mantra as a copycat league this season, failing to stay updated with the latest trends in the game. One of the biggest issues with Barry's leadership of the defense this season was a scheme that occasionally bordered on too vanilla to challenge opposing offenses. Barry started mixing coverages in the secondary late in the season, helping spark the turnaround.

In the offseason, LaFleur said, he wants to conduct more analytical studies than in past years. It will be on him to spearhead a better 2023 after doubling down on Barry and the rest of his staff, putting more innovative ideas on the field than this past season.

“When you feel good about the people,” LaFleur said, “then you have to work to improve. We have to challenge each other. There’s going to be a lot of projects that we’re going to do in this offseason that maybe we haven’t done as good a job of in the past couple of seasons in studying other teams and the trends going throughout the course of the league. You’ve got to try to stay in front of everything, and certainly we did not do that this year.”

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