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Matt LaFleur’s Three Biggest Goals for New Packers Defensive Coordinator

Matt LaFleur is making one of the biggest hires of his career. He should have some very specific criteria when it comes to hiring his new defensive coordinator.

GREEN BAY Wis. – Joe Barry is gone. That much is known. The Green Bay Packers and Matt LaFleur moved on from Barry after a rollercoaster season on defense that was deemed not good enough by the man in charge.

The next defensive coordinator will be LaFleur's third. He chose to keep Mike Pettine when he was hired in 2019, and tabbed Barry as the man to replace Pettine two years later.

This next hire is a big one for LaFleur. Coaches only get the opportunity to hire so many coordinators, and the Packers are entering a championship window with an offense that looks primed to be one of the league's best in 2024.

When LaFleur hired Barry, it was to play the Vic Fangio style of defense that Barry employed the last three years. This time, LaFleur should have some specific criteria.

Here are three goals for the Packers' coach as he makes one of the biggest decisions of his coaching career.

Coach Over Scheme

This should be far and away one of the biggest goals for LaFleur.

Defense changes as offenses around the league find new ways to create big plays.

When Barry was hired, the Fangio scheme was in vogue. Many NFL teams were trying to copy a scheme similar to the one Fangio has run since coming to the NFL. That's part of the reason Brandon Staley got a head coaching job with the Chargers. It's why Barry was hired to run the defense in Green Bay.

A quick scroll through Twitter/X would tell you that the Fangio scheme is no longer desirable. Those same people will say the same things about Pettine's style, and some may even get all the way to Dom Capers.

The reality is, if you work hard enough, any defensive scheme can seem undesirable.

The best coaches are the ones that adapt not only to the talent they have, but to the team they are set to face in a given week.

One of the criticisms of Barry was that while his defense did a good job of frustrating some of the best offenses in football because they forced the league's top quarterbacks to be patient, his defense struggled against lesser opponents. Barry would sit in his shell defense and allow the opposition to run the ball as much as they wanted.

Bill Belichick is one of the best defensive minds in the history of the NFL. His teams had a philosophy, but they were not married to a specific scheme.

That should be LaFleur's goal.

A good example was this year's playoff run. The Dallas Cowboys want to throw the ball all over the stadium, but the San Francisco 49ers have a drastically different identity.

The scheme is not going to matter that much if the coach is unable to adapt to his players and, more importantly, the opponent.

It looks as if LaFleur is working toward this goal in early interviews, with the five known candidates bringing a mix of 3-4 and 4-3 backgrounds.

Quay Walker 

Quay Waker is one of the most talented players on defense for the Packers.

His fit, however, has been a little clunky. There are flashes of brilliance. Walker is an athletic dream roaming the middle of the field.

When that all comes together, the results can be jaw-dropping.

Walker's interception returned for a touchdown against Chicago in the season opener is a good indicator of his superior skill-set.

The issues have come when Walker has been forced to diagnose what's going on in front of him. His instincts as a linebacker have not fully developed yet.

Walker has been at his best when he's been asked to hunt. He's an effective blitzer and looks like a different player when he's asked to see and hit.

When Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald was hired at Michigan, he was asked what his plan was to stop Ohio State's offense.

With the talent and investment made in Walker, LaFleur should be asking a similar question to his defensive coordinator candidates.

As seen in defenses like San Francisco, a great linebacker can be a game-changer.

The Packers cannot ask Walker to be Fred Warner. He's the best linebacker in football. Walker's talent, however, can make him a top player at his position if that's fully unlocked.

Dictate Your Terms

The best defenses in NFL history played on their terms.

The Seattle Seahawks’ “Legion of Boom” did not care who the offense had on the other side. The Seahawks dictated the terms of engagement, not the other way.

The Packers rarely did that under Barry or Pettine.

How often did a team put together a touchdown drive in the last three years that felt like there was little to no resistance along the way?

Defense has long been an afterthought in Green Bay. Too frequently, the hope was the defense would simply be good enough to allow the offense to win the game.

Jordan Love looks well on his way to being one of the next great quarterbacks in the NFL. That said, he is not Aaron Rodgers in his prime. Few players are.

Even if he does reach that lofty standard, the last decade-plus of a championship drought says that simply having a great quarterback does not guarantee championship-level success.

Earlier this year, we chronicled how the Packers' defense was the main culprit for not winning at least one more championship when Rodgers was in his prime.

“Defense wins championships” is an outdated statement, but the Chiefs, 49ers and Ravens have good defenses. Two of those teams are playing in the Super Bowl, and the other just hosted a conference championship game.

The goal for the Packers' defense can no longer be to simply be good enough, but to be great.

That starts with a culture shift, which begins at the top. LaFleur has to be looking for someone who can shift the mindset of Green Bay's defense toward dominance.