Packers Taking ‘Navy SEALs’ Approach With Defensive Line

The Packers haven’t finished in the top half of the NFL in tackles for losses since 2017. New defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley hopes his defense can throw opponents for a loss in 2024.
Karl Brooks and Rashan Gary take down Brock Purdy.
Karl Brooks and Rashan Gary take down Brock Purdy. / Mark Hoffman / Milwaukee Journal

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Last year, the Green Bay Packers tied for 22nd in the NFL with 76 tackles for losses. The first-place Cleveland Browns had 113; the last-place New Orleans Saints and Minnesota Vikings had 70.

In 2022, they tied for 25th with 68 TFLs. Only four teams had less.

In 2021, the Packers were last in the NFL with 52 tackles for losses.

Thus, in three seasons as defensive coordinator, Joe Barry’s defense had a league-low 196 tackles for losses. Six teams had at least 250.

There’s a new defensive coordinator, with Jeff Hafley bringing in a new scheme and a new way of doing business. That mentality will start on the defensive line led by Jason Rebrovich.

“It’s an attack front, guys. If you put the tape on, [it’s like] San Fran, Houston, the Jets, things like that,” Rebrovich said in naming teams that finished fifth, first and sixth, respectively, in TFLs the last years. “Been very fortunate in my background being in Buffalo and in Jacksonville and that’s really what we did back then, so been fortunate to be around it.

“But it’s about TFLs and sacks. We’re going to look to create havoc in the backfield. Every down, we’re looking to penetrate and make something big happen.”

It’s not just about making things happen, though that will be at the forefront. It’s also about not letting things happen. The 49ers and the Vikings are among teams that run zone-based running games. With Green Bay’s attacking front, Rebrovich said opposing offensive linemen will “have to stay on the line of scrimmage a little bit longer,” which could impact their ability to stretch the field or create cut-back lanes.

That, in theory, will improve a run defense that ranks last in the NFL in yards allowed per carry during Matt LaFleur’s five seasons as coach.

Every decision in life comes with a trade-off. There’s a give and take to everything. That includes implementing an attacking vs. two-gapping approach on defense.

Rebrovich, however, said he didn’t see a downside to the new approach.

“I really don’t,” he said. “Any scheme the way you present it, you coach it, you put it in, those guys got to understand what the process is to make those plays. I don’t think it’s a negative. I don’t think there’s a downfall. I really don’t.”

The key to making it work will be the seven players lining up behind Rebrovich’s defensive front. Just like any system, getting 11 defenders to the ball is the best way to stop any play. So, if Kenny Clark or Rashan Gary fail to make the play in the backfield, it will be up to Quay Walker or Xavier McKinney to minimize the damage.

“Anytime you’re trying to create things in the backfield, you’ve got to have the whole group swarm to make the play,” Rebrovich said. “Can’t just be one guy making the tackle. So, you’ve got to make sure when you are creating a new line of scrimmage, when you are working to get in the backfield, there’s other guys that are going to converge. You can’t just sit there and watch one guy try and work to make one play.”

Rebrovich went on to use a colorful comparison for his group.

“The biggest thing – and I’m not trying to correlate football with war or anything like that – but we’re the Navy SEALs. We’re the first line of defense. The rest of the guys are going to sit back there and do what they need to do. We are going to work to get our forces in first. If that force goes in and is able to create that great opportunity for us defensively, then let’s go to the next play.”

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Bill Huber


Bill Huber, who has covered the Green Bay Packers since 2008, is the publisher of Packer Central, a Sports Illustrated channel. E-mail: History: Huber took over Packer Central in August 2019. Twitter: Background: Huber graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, where he played on the football team, in 1995. He worked in newspapers in Reedsburg, Wisconsin Dells and Shawano before working at The Green Bay News-Chronicle and Green Bay Press-Gazette from 1998 through 2008. With The News-Chronicle, he won several awards for his commentaries and page design. In 2008, he took over as editor of Packer Report Magazine, which was founded by Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Nitschke, and In 2019, he took over the new Sports Illustrated site Packer Central, which he has grown into one of the largest sites in the Sports Illustrated Media Group.