GREEN BAY, Wis. – With change comes optimism. The belief that bad can become good, that good can become great.
In Dom Capers’ debut as defensive coordinator, the Green Bay Packers beat the Chicago Bears 21-15 to start the 2009 season. Green Bay recorded four interceptions and held the Bears to 27 percent on third down. In 2010, Capers’ powerhouse defense helped the Packers win a Super Bowl.
In Mike Pettine’s debut as coordinator, the Packers beat the Bears 24-23 to start the 2018 season. The Bears were limited to 294 yards, a combined 37 percent on third and fourth down and 1-of-4 in the red zone. One of Chicago’s touchdowns was scored by its defense. With Pettine’s defense finishing ninth in points allowed in 2019 and ninth in yards allowed in 2020, the Packers reached back-to-back NFC Championship Games.
Barry’s debut as defensive coordinator on Sunday against the New Orleans Saints, a 38-3 “ass whipp(ing)” as coach Matt LaFleur put it, didn’t go as swimmingly.
After the Packers lost in the title game for the second consecutive season, LaFleur fired Pettine and hired Barry. The pick came under heavy scrutiny considering how poorly Barry’s defenses performed in Detroit and Washington.
What happened against the Saints won’t ease those concerns.
Given infinitely better personnel than he had in his previous stints as coordinator, Barry’s defense was terrible. New Orleans scored five touchdowns and one field goal in its first seven possessions. To be sure, two scores were served up on a silver platter following an interception by Aaron Rodgers and a failed fourth down, but the Packers got pushed around too much up front, put no pressure on Jameis Winston and failed to deliver a game-turning play.
“I don’t even know how many stops we had of their offense the entire day,” LaFleur said after the horror show.
While the defense did a decent job on Saints star running back Alvin Kamara (91 total yards, 4.0 yards per touch, down from last year’s averages of 112.5 and 6.3) and allowed only one play of 20-plus yards (the 55-yard touchdown pass to Deonte Harris in the fourth quarter), Winston had almost as many touchdowns (five) as incompletions (six). New Orleans converted a combined 58.3 percent of its third and fourth downs.
With one game to play in Week 1, only one team (Detroit) allowed more points than Green Bay. Only one team (Atlanta) allowed more rushing yards. The Packers were one of only two teams (Dallas) that failed to sack the quarterback. They’re one of five teams with a league-worst one pass defensed. All four red-zone possessions ended with touchdowns.
Otherwise, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?
“I still have the utmost confidence in our defense,” safety Adrian Amos said. “We’re going to regroup and get better this week. We’re going to get back to our assignments, see what we messed up. A lot of things where we were giving up too many yards on first and second down, giving up third-and-shorts and things like that. but we’re going to see more and more come tomorrow and the next day watching film. We’re going to get those corrections handled and I still have the utmost confidence.”
Barry was one of 13 defensive coordinators hired this offseason. Here’s the Week 1 rundown:
Dean Pees, Atlanta: 32-6 loss to Philadelphia. 26th with 434 yards allowed.
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Sean Desai, Chicago: 34-14 loss to L.A. Rams. 16th with 386 yards allowed.
Dan Quinn, Dallas: 31-29 loss to Tampa Bay. 25th with 431 yards allowed.
Aaron Glenn, Detroit: 41-33 loss to San Francisco. 27th with 442 yards allowed.
Joe Barry, Green Bay: 38-3 loss to New Orleans. Ninth with 322 yards allowed.
Lovie Smith: Houston: 37-21 victory over Jacksonville. 18th with 395 yards allowed.
Joe Cullen, Jacksonville: 37-21 loss to Houston. 28th with 449 yards allowed.
Renaldo Hill, L.A. Chargers: 20-16 victory over Washington. Fifth with 259 yards allowed.
Raheem Morris, L.A. Rams: 34-14 victory over Chicago. Ninth with 322 yards allowed.
Jeff Ulbrich, N.Y. Jets: 19-14 loss to Carolina. 14th with 381 yards allowed.
Jonathan Gannon, Philadelphia: 32-6 victory over Atlanta. Seventh with 260 yards allowed.
DeMeco Ryans, San Francisco: 41-33 victory over Detroit. 24th with 430 yards allowed.
Shane Bowen, Tennessee: 38-13 loss to Arizona. 21st with 416 yards allowed.
Those teams went 5-8. Four of those wins coming against teams that also had new coordinators; the fifth (Chargers against Washington) came mostly against a backup quarterback. Six of the bottom 10 teams in yards allowed were led by new coordinators. So, Barry’s woeful debut wasn’t abnormally bad. But it was bad, nonetheless, because Barry’s defensive cupboard is anything but empty.
The defenders spent all offseason and training camp raving about Barry. Amos said he wasn’t going to “jump ship” on his new boss after one game.
“It’s just going back to work,” defensive tackle Kenny Clark said. “We know what we’re capable of and we know the guys that we’ve got in our room. It’s just going back to work. They put it on us today and we’re not happy about it. So, we’ve got good character guys in our room, guys that’s going to go back to work and come back with the mentality. That’s what we’ve got to do.”