Can Hafley Break the Chain of Defensive Mediocrity?

New DC excited about the talent he has to work with.

Green Bay’s new defensive coordinator met the press for the first time since his hiring a couple of weeks ago, but Jeff Hafley stopped short of saying what many fans wanted most to hear. After three seasons of watching Joe Barry playing corners off the line of scrimmage on third and short, and sticking stubbornly to three and four man pass rushes, the green and gold faithful probably wanted the new defensive boss to proclaim the Packers would press receivers at the line every play, and blitz like crazy. 

While admitting that “I like to press people”, Hafley would not commit to any firm decisions yet as to how the Packers would play on that side of the ball. That includes his choice of base formation. It has been widely reported that Hafley will switch the Pack to a 4-3 base but he hedged on that. He told the beat writers he’s been studying tape of the defense day and night since arriving in town. “The thing I believe in on defense, whether you’re playing 3-4, 4-3, press man which I love, zone coverage, vision and break, quarters match, it comes down to, can you take the players you have and put them in the best position to succeed,” he said. 

With the youthful resurgence of the offense leading the team to a surprisingly strong finish last season, a similar reawakening of the defense would be a critical piece of the puzzle to make a strong run at the Super Bowl. But recent history is not on Hafley’s side. The Packers have been mired in defensive mediocrity ever since they last won a championship following the 2010 season. That Super Bowl team, led by DC Dom Capers, finished second in the league in points allowed and fifth in yards allowed.  

In the thirteen seasons since, Green Bay has never finished in the top five in either category. In fact, they’ve only been top ten twice during that span. In all but one of the other years the Packers finished somewhere between 11th and 25th. The definition of mediocrity. The lone exception was 2011, when Capers’ unit plummeted to 32nd, dead last, in yards allowed.  

This despite having invested major draft capital for defensive talent. Green Bay has spent twelve first round picks on defensive players since 2012. In that time they selected a defender with their first round pick every year with one exception, that famously being Jordan Love in 2020. The result has been an impressive collection of names and credentials, but little translation into consistent success. No defensive player was voted to the Associated Press All Pro first or second teams, although Keisean Nixon was selected as a kick returner.  

Still, Hafley says he took a look at the talent on the roster and it convinced him to leave a head coaching position at Boston College to become an assistant in Green Bay. “Watching the talent that he (general manager Brian Gutekunst) has acquired over the last few years, when I really started to watch the last few draft classes, and the job that he’s done and will continue to do going forward, that was obviously very appealing to me,” Hafley revealed. 

Head coach Mike McCarthy stuck with Capers for seven more years after the Super Bowl conquest, with only mediocrity to show for it. In 2018, with his seat getting hot as the Packers dropped out of the playoffs, McCarthy replaced Capers with Mike Pettine. The defense dropped from 7th to 22nd in points allowed. Pettine lasted three seasons and survived the head coaching change to Matt LaFleur in 2019. Green Bay would win thirteen games in each of the next two seasons but suffer crushing disappointments in the playoffs, and the defense took its share of the blame. In 2021 LaFleur dumped Pettine and brought in Barry. 

It’s not that Barry’s unit never played well. They had their moments. This past season they finished tenth in points allowed. But the defense had a maddening tendency to play its worst at the end of games when they were needed the most. The fourth quarter breakdown against the 49ers in the divisional round of the playoffs last month is a typical example. The Packers took a seven point lead into the final period, but when the offense faltered, the defense couldn’t hold on. Barry’s inclination to play conservative formations on third downs resulted in long, ball-control drives by the opposition. Pass rush was often absent, and gaping holes dotted their zone coverage. Barry became anathema for Packer fans who howled for his dismissal. 

For his part, Hafley did not pile on. Asked what he thought of last year’s play, he took the high road. “I think they did a lot of good things,” the 44 year-old coach remarked. “I think they played a lot of good defense in a lot of games. I have a lot of respect for everyone that was on that staff and on that field. For me right now it’s about moving forward and trying to improve it.” 

Can he succeed where Capers, Pettine and Barry all failed? He is certainly saying all the right things about players playing aggressively and smartly in schemes that fit their abilities. Packer fans have heard such rhetoric before. We can only hope this time there are results to back it up. 

  

 

PLEASE SUBSCRIBE TO OUR CHEESEHEAD NATION WEEKLY NEWSLETTER HERE.

__________________________

Ken Lass is a former Green Bay television sports anchor and 43 year media veteran, a lifelong Packers fan, and a shareholder.

__________________________

NFL Categories: 
12 points
 

Comments (42)

Fan-Friendly This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.
Guam's picture

February 23, 2024 at 12:33 pm

Too many of Ted Thompson's defensive draft choices in the last five years of his tenure as GM fizzled out and left the defense bereft of talent. I think that more than anything else was the downfall of Capers and Pettine. Gute has mostly restocked the defense although he has had some misses of his own. I thought Barry had enough talent to have decent defenses, but Barry misused the talents of his secondary players and didn't maximize the defense.

Alexander, Stoked and Valentine all appear to be better suited to press man coverage than soft zone, but Barry almost exclusively played that soft zone. If I never see another CB playing 7 yards off on a third and two situation, it will still be too damn soon.

It sounds like Hafley wants to play what suits his players rather than force an ill fitting scheme on his players. If he does that, the Packer defense may significantly improve. We will see next fall.

12 points
12
0
jannes bjornson's picture

February 23, 2024 at 12:43 pm

Yes, the key will be Gutedkunst actually hitting on difference makers for the secondary and selecting a bad-ass Linebacker, or three. A good year for safeties, get the Free Agent CB in Kendall Fuller. Don't count on Stokes.

0 points
0
0
LLCHESTY's picture

February 23, 2024 at 01:02 pm

I think much more important is to get a couple of the 1st round players already on the roster to produce at an All Pro or borderline All Pro level. It would be nice if one of them was Gary or LVN but any two out of Gary, Walker, Wyatt and LVN would work.

Fuller had a passer rating allowed of 120 last year. Incredibly bad for a CB.

3 points
3
0
jannes bjornson's picture

February 23, 2024 at 04:46 pm

Was that before, or after The Commies dumped Montez Sweat and Chase Young? Ratings by which scouting dept.? I have never read PFF in my lifetime. Fuller can go to the slot to stop the bleeding. Draft another perimeter guy and see if Valentine can hold ground , or move him to Dime.

-1 points
0
1
splitpea1's picture

February 23, 2024 at 12:53 pm

Hafley excited about the talent he has to work with? Maybe in some cases but not in others. He's publicly stated that he's looking for Superman at the safety position: "I want a guy who can erase things...come out with his hair on fire...can go sideline to sideline and take the ball away...gotta be able to intercept the ball...communicate, get guys lined up and make some calls back there."

And I think Hafley is on to something. An elite safety has been the missing ingredient in the Packers defense for many years, and if we're planning on playing more Cover 1, we're going to need that Superman type.

We'll see how well Hadley sticks to his tenets with his more aggressive approach and putting the players he has in the best position to succeed. Not that I don't take him at his word, but we've heard this sort of thing before only to be disappointed by what actually happens on the field. But whatever, this is a new era for the Packers defense and Hafley deserves a clean slate--this is exciting!

7 points
7
0
Starrbrite's picture

February 23, 2024 at 01:14 pm

Agree—a great defense must have an elite safety. Sign a FA stud and add one or two in the draft.

2 points
2
0
LLCHESTY's picture

February 23, 2024 at 01:18 pm

I laughed at his safety description. I don't think Ed Reed in his prime will be walking through the door. Athletically he could have been describing Calen Bullock but he'd have his hands full coaching him up. Top notch athlete and playmaker that won't turn 21 until a couple days after the draft. Tried to be an aggressive tackler but needs a lot of work on angles along more consistently wrapping up. Needs to add some beef too but he'll be back most of the time. Kid is 6'-3" and can absolutely sky. This interception is a jaw dropper. Could probably dunk with an 11' rim.

https://twitter.com/KHollowell_/status/1705813971364888664?t=8tY6FGBBExp...

3 points
3
0
Dooniebrewers's picture

February 23, 2024 at 03:24 pm

That is an impressive video clip.

4 points
4
0
LLCHESTY's picture

February 23, 2024 at 04:40 pm

I'd be surprised if he doesn't have a 40" vertical next week.

3 points
3
0
jannes bjornson's picture

February 23, 2024 at 04:47 pm

Pass.

2 points
2
0
GregC's picture

February 23, 2024 at 01:15 pm

Good overview of the defensive mediocrity during the past decade and a half. It's been a combination of average talent and average defensive coaching. Part of it is that first round picks in the 20s are usually not difference makers. But it's not just that. Too many of those first round picks have not been very good at all, and the Packers haven't hit on very many good defensive players in the later rounds either.

I am feeling more optimistic right now not only because of the new DC but because the Packers finally have really good talent on the defensive line, for the first time since they won the Super Bowl. When I say that, I'm including the former OLBs who are now DEs. There is still a lot of work to do with the linebackers and secondary, but they have a good base to build around. Bring in a really good safety and another good linebacker, and things could get really interesting.

I especially love the thought of power rushers Gary and Van Ness playing with their hands down, getting real low, and driving back OTs. I think running a 4-3 has an effect on the nickel defense too, as these players will be more used to playing from a 3-point stance, so they will do more of that as pass rushers in the nickel as well as in the base defense.

5 points
5
0
Leatherhead's picture

February 23, 2024 at 01:34 pm

The Capers defense of 2011 that finished 32 in yards allowed? We went 15-1 that season. It was the best regular season in Packer history. You can think what you want about that. Me? I think if your offense is good enough, your defense doesn't really matter that much.

-7 points
2
9
LLCHESTY's picture

February 23, 2024 at 01:54 pm

Yeah one and done in the playoffs is a great season. Their pass defense was straight garbage that year, only saved by an inordinate number of turnovers created. Anybody that wasn't nervous about the defense letting them down at some point in the playoffs was blind.

4 points
6
2
Leatherhead's picture

February 23, 2024 at 03:09 pm

You realize that we turned it over4 times in that game? Or was that before you were born?

And yes 15-1 is the best REGULAR season in Packer history. You can look it up.

2 points
4
2
LLCHESTY's picture

February 23, 2024 at 03:28 pm

The '07 Patriots were better. All time great team right?

-2 points
0
2
Leatherhead's picture

February 24, 2024 at 05:58 pm

What that has do to with a discussion of Packer season records , I have no idea.

1 points
1
0
barutanseijin's picture

February 23, 2024 at 03:26 pm

Did the defense lose that game against the Giants? I’d say it was more that the Giants hamstrung the Packers’ #1 asset, their high-octane passing game. Also, Rodgers turned the ball over twice and Ryan Grant & John Koooooon chipped in with a fumble apiece. Grant’s fumble was the coup-de-grace, though you could probably say the game was lost by then anyway.

Just a sloppy game from the Packers who frankly deserved to lose. Unlike the Giants game in 2007 where they played hard and went down swinging or the 2010 playoffs where they played hungry, tough and sharp , they seemed ill-prepared and complacent. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a sign of things to come.

2 points
2
0
GregC's picture

February 23, 2024 at 02:01 pm

So how does that work? If your defense doesn't matter, it means your opponent's offense doesn't matter, right? So if you look at it from the opponent's point of view, their offense doesn't matter, so maybe it's only their defense that matters? I'm confused.

3 points
5
2
Leatherhead's picture

February 23, 2024 at 03:11 pm

If you're scoring 30 ppg, your opponent has to keep up. Most can't. Most offenses can't score 30 points in a game, most of the time. They aren't good enough.

-1 points
3
4
LLCHESTY's picture

February 23, 2024 at 03:26 pm

Yeah those all time offenses always won the SB. Early '80s Chargers, '83 Redskins, '84 Dolphins, '98 Vikings, '07 Patriots, '11 Packers, '13 Broncos and '18 Chiefs. Regular season champions but not a lot of SB rings there. Oh wait, none.

Hopefully you're joking here.

5 points
6
1
barutanseijin's picture

February 23, 2024 at 04:11 pm

Nice cherries you picked there.

1999 Rams? 1958 Colts? etc.

Besides, you have years like 1984 where two of the top offenses meet in the super bowl. OK so Marino & the Dolphins #1 O didn’t win but the Walsh/Montana offense did. Or 2022 when the better offense wins. You. also have to figure out if a “#1” offense really is what it looks like on paper. Sometimes a team is lucky enough to play a bunch of chumps in the regular season.

1 points
2
1
LLCHESTY's picture

February 23, 2024 at 05:47 pm

The top 10 scoring teams of all time didn't win a ring. Every one of the teams I mentioned besides the Chargers and Dolphins scored more than the '99 Rams. The '99 Rams were the highest scoring team to win and they are 14th all time in scoring and they won by one yard. The point is all time great offenses generally don't win rings.

4 points
4
0
DoubleJ's picture

February 23, 2024 at 11:41 pm

The 1999 Rams had the #4 ranked D in points allowed and #6 ranked D in yards allowed. The offense got all the credit but that D was awesome. In the Super Bowl they held the #7 scoring O to all of 16 points.

4 points
4
0
GregC's picture

February 23, 2024 at 05:46 pm

Fair enough. But not a good formula for winning a championship. When your offense hits a bump against a good defense in the playoffs, you're screwed--just like the 2011 Packers.

4 points
4
0
PhantomII's picture

February 23, 2024 at 08:36 pm

Yea....cause no defense ever gets tired cause they can't get off the field until the other team scores and bad defenses allow a ton of first downs and any offense still needs time on the clock. We need a GOOD Defense that can make a stop in the run game and force a 3-n-out or an INT. We need an ELITE OL UNIT in the Run and Pass game. We need 2 really good RB's with exceptional vision and good burst and some wiggle. We do NEED a pro bowl/ All pro level FS.

2 points
2
0
Packer_Fan's picture

February 23, 2024 at 02:07 pm

I agree with Ken that Barry's defense wasn't the worst let's say. But he sure was poor in the 4th quarter and against weak teams. Just a lack of aggressiveness and playing soft. At Lafleur's last press conference, he mentioned attack several times. I believe that Hafley will be bringing that aggressiveness we didn't see in Barry. KC won the Super Bowl not because of Mahomes, but because their defense kept SF from scoring TD's their last two possessions.

Given that and since the salary cap is higher than expected, I could see spending free agent money on a veteran safety. And then drafting one in the lower rounds.

And I am ok resigning Savage, Nixon and Owens. I believe much of the poor play of the players was scheme based due to Barry playing soft and conservative. Because soft and conservative is anathema to defensive players.

4 points
6
2
MooPack's picture

February 23, 2024 at 03:44 pm

On another note... $30 Mil salary cap increase should help this year. Maybe now they have some room to bring in a vet Safety like Xavier McKinney.

https://www.nfl.com/news/nfl-salary-cap-set-at-255-4m-per-team-for-2024-...

4 points
4
0
MooPack's picture

February 23, 2024 at 04:34 pm

This is an interesting post on twitter (X) from Peter Bukowski. (sorry, I can't link because of CHTV inane posting policy - I already posted a link in this thread).

The Robert Saleh-style defense Jeff Hafley is bringing to the Packers is a variation of the Pete Carroll defense.

5/7 Packers playoff losses since 2014 have been against a version of it.

2014 Carroll
2016 Quinn
2019 Saleh
2021 Ryans
2023 Wilks

Can't beat 'em, join 'em.

3 points
3
0
LLCHESTY's picture

February 23, 2024 at 06:01 pm

I think a real positive of playing against this style defense is the young skill guys are going to get a real lesson in fight through press coverage in TC. On the other hand Wicks going to take some young DBs to school. Hopefully Watson is completely healthy and can show them how to press(or not) against speed.

4 points
4
0
MooPack's picture

February 23, 2024 at 07:27 pm

Amen brother.

0 points
0
0
SicSemperTyrannis's picture

February 27, 2024 at 09:21 pm

#9 11 and 80 are functionally identical in speed, with Bo Melton being the fastest. I hope #10 practices with at least those 3 all off-season.

GPG!

0 points
0
0
LambeauPlain's picture

February 23, 2024 at 04:43 pm

Maybe some fans "wanted the new defensive boss to proclaim the Packers would press receivers at the line every play, and blitz like crazy."

I did not. And he DID NOT say he was going to run HIS scheme and coach players to play it...regardless of individual talents.

Hafley talked more about taking inventory of his players individual skillsets and determine how the sum of those talents will make the whole greater. He sounded genuinely excited about the men on his D.

He sounded like a coach who will attack...but attack each weekly opponent's weaknesses based on the strengths of his team.

I thoroughly enjoyed what Hafley said about his vision. They will attack. How they will attack will vary. And the Team will require being sold on that vision. Communication and listening and working very hard to generate pressure and for all to focus on tackling the ball carrier.

But what he did not have to say is evident: Barry Ball is buried at 1265 Lombardi. Finally.

It is going to be a very new look on D.

4 points
4
0
jannes bjornson's picture

February 23, 2024 at 05:16 pm

Players, not plays. He has to procure better defensive players on the backend. Barry had the same rah rah speech.

0 points
0
0
LambeauPlain's picture

February 24, 2024 at 06:22 am

I listened to both Barry and Hafley's "Meet the DC" introductory pressers.

The former talked and answered questions in superfluous banalities. I was shaking my head listening to it. So many words, so little said. I wondered how the players were going to respond to him. I was not impressed.

The latter showed a vision with a mission and a passion. It was all about taking inventories of his players and coaching them how to play the best synergistic D and play it fast. They will attack, but do so depending how his guys strengths match up against the next opponent. I was very impressed with Coach Hafley.

Equally impressive was his ability to sell his vision to assistants like Campanile and Ansley...two rising coaching stars with other options.

The former presser was a D for me. The latter was an A.

Next up will be the more important on field results comparison.

2 points
2
0
SicSemperTyrannis's picture

February 27, 2024 at 09:22 pm

HALLELUJAH!

I want to see it.

The Missouri Packers?

0 points
0
0
Alberta_Packer's picture

February 23, 2024 at 06:40 pm

Not since the days of Charles Woodson have I thought that the Packers D performed greater than the sum of their parts. While during the Barry era - the D's apex was only when they played, occasionally, equal to their parts, However, now with Hafley, Gutekunst and Co. - I will unsuspend my expectations and look for a top tier defense.

2 points
2
0
SicSemperTyrannis's picture

February 27, 2024 at 09:25 pm

Man do we ever need THAT! The defense as a whole performing actually BETTER than the individuals?!? I'm not sure if that's legal at Lambeau, but I think I speak for everyone when I say we're

HUNGRY TO SEE IT

GPG!!

0 points
0
0
Tundraboy's picture

February 23, 2024 at 07:19 pm

At least he doesn't dance around things . Pretty direct statements. That alone bodes well.

4 points
4
0
SicSemperTyrannis's picture

February 27, 2024 at 09:26 pm

Why did the Joisey jokes stop flying? Is Campanelli retired?

0 points
0
0
Bear's picture

February 23, 2024 at 07:36 pm

Just wants a nasty attacking defense with multiple tacklers.

7 points
7
0
SicSemperTyrannis's picture

February 27, 2024 at 09:30 pm

Isaiah McDuffie brings the nasty. I hope to see Quay Walker and Luke Ness Monster adding to that mantra! Throw in the rest of the Georgia defensive draft picks while we're at it.

We need some o dat Joisey boy, fittin out de opponents for cement shoes. Make opponents FEAR having to go to Lambeau!

0 points
0
0
Lchingon's picture

February 24, 2024 at 04:36 pm

I am hoping for the best and when draft day arrives I also hope the don't pass on a player like T.J. Watt to take a player like Vince Beighle likely misspelled name. Other than that pick I usually hope they saw something I didn't.

0 points
0
0