The Green Bay Packers were ousted from the 2024 NFL Playoffs in a tough 24-21 loss to the San Francisco 49ers in the Divisional Round on Saturday night. While the loss was a tough pill to swallow, the Packers and their fans should find solace that the future is bright. Green Bay entered the matchup with the youngest team in the NFL. The Packers have a very talented young offense that should only get better.
But what about the defense?
Going into the final weeks of the regular season, the Packers’ defense was not playing well. Many were calling for the firing of defensive coordinator Joe Barry, who allowed rookie QB Bryce Young to have his best NFL game despite playing on the worst team and offense in the League. That came a week after Barry’s defense allowed Baker Mayfield to look like Peyton Manning in a 34-20 loss.
Things were trending in the wrong direction but Barry was able to right the ship a bit. Green Bay would win the final two games to get into the playoffs, allowing a total of 19 points in that span. It was against weaker opponents, but things could have been much worse. On the season, the Packers finished 17th in total yards allowed and were actually a top-10 defense in point allowed. The biggest issue was finishing bottom-5 in rushing yards allowed but the secondary actually wasn’t as bad as it appeared.
In the playoffs, Barry and the defense was the furthest thing from a problem, which was encouraging. The Packers forced a few big turnovers which helped beat the Cowboys and sacked QB Dak Prescott four times. In the Divisional loss to the Niners, the defense did a good enough job against Christian McCaffrey and put the Packers in a position to win.
So the big question is was Barry’s defense actually that bad?
Not really. It was actually pretty good at times. The actual question to ask is was it the injuries?
Was health more to blame for Packers defense?
Here’s a list of Packers’ defensive players who missed at least one game this season:
Quay Walker (3)
De’Vondre Campbell (6)
Isaiah McDuffie (1)
Rudy Ford (4)
Darnell Savage (7)
Jaire Alexander (10)
Eric Stokes (14)
On top of that, the Packers traded starting CB Rasul Douglas to the Bills after seven games. Green Bay did have good health on the defensive line most of the season. DT Kenny Clark, rookie pass-rusher Lukas Van Ness, LB Rashan Gary, DT Devonte Wyatt and LB Preston Smith all played 17 games. Gary, Smith and Clark being the most important of that bunch.
Alexander, Savage and Campbell missing games hurt the team, the biggest injury being the Pro Bowl corner. You saw the impact Alexander can have on the game; his interception against Prescott in the Wild Card game was probably the biggest play of the game. Savage had a 64-yard pick-6 in that game as well. Campbell had a sack, eight tackles, a pass breakup and a QB hit. So you see when some of the Packers’ top defensive players are healthy, the results are good.
But the Packers shouldn’t use health as a crutch. Some of it is on the GM and staff adding depth. You could say they did their job as well. Keisean Nixon, Corey Ballentine, Carrington Valentine and McDuffie emerged as serviceable players. Remember, it’s still a very young group that has room for improvement. Health and another year or coaching/training and the Packers could end up being a top defensive unit next season.
The flak Barry was taking late in the season wasn’t all that warranted. Sure, those two games were big and the defense almost blew it against Carolina, which would have held the Packers out of the playoffs. But the defense overall wasn’t that bad this season, not nearly bad enough to warrant the firing of Barry. At least not yet. This upcoming season will be big. If the Packers can shore up the secondary a bit and stay healthy, it should be a good enough unit if the offense takes another step.
Expect Barry to be retained. His contract runs through 2024, so any slip ups during the season and Green Bay can go in a different direction. Something tells me Barry will be OK and the defense won’t regress. All of the linebackers and defensive line are under contract for 2024. Savage is the only big free agent in the secondary and there should be some internal replacements there if he isn’t brought back. Plus, the Packers have 11 draft picks in 2024 — six in the first four rounds. The No. 25 pick could be used on a corner or safety.
Either way, Barry should be back for another season and if things go wrong, the Packers are still young. The window to compete with QB Jordan Love and the offense could last through the decade. Personally, I think you keep him. Continuity is always good and the team should only improve from here.