GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator Joe Barry realizes he must raise his game to get the most out of a defense that didn't live up to expectations last year.
“It starts with me,” Barry said Tuesday. “I have to do better. In order for this group to play better, I have to do better.”
Green Bay probably will have to lean more on the unit this year as the offense adapts to life without four-time MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers. That means a repeat of 2022 won’t be good enough.
Other former first-round picks on Green Bay's defense are defensive tackles Kenny Clark and Devonte Wyatt, cornerbacks Jaire Alexander and Eric Stokes, outside linebacker Rashan Gary, safety Darnell Savage and linebacker Quay Walker.
“For all the talent we got on our side of the ball, we’ve got to hold up our end of the bargain," Clark said last week.
They didn't do that often enough last season as the Packers went 8-9 and missed the playoffs to end a string of three straight NFC North titles.
The only defenses that allowed more yards per play than the Packers (5.8) were the Detroit Lions, Chicago Bears, Los Angeles Chargers and Minnesota Vikings. The only teams that allowed more yards per carry than Green Bay (5.0) were the Houston Texans, the Lions, the New York Giants and Chargers.
Green Bay also ranked 17th in yards allowed per game (336.5) and tied for 17th in points allowed per game (21.8). Packers head coach Matt LaFleur still opted to bring back Barry for a third season rather than shaking up the defensive staff.
“I’m not a big rear-view-mirror guy,” Barry said. “I want to look forward. I want to look through the windshield at what’s ahead. But I think if you do go back and really critique last year, the inconsistencies were the things that really got us."
The Packers played better on defense late in the year. After forcing a total of 12 turnovers during a 4-8 start, they had 12 during a four-game winning streak that put them back into playoff contention.
“We can’t be up one week and down the next,” Barry said. “We’ve got to find that consistency and show up every single week. Like I said, the last five or six weeks of the season, we found that. We don’t have time to waste 10 weeks.”
Green Bay still has some questions on defense even with so much returning first-round talent.
Gary and Stokes are recovering from injuries that ended their 2022 seasons prematurely and that makes their return dates uncertain. The Packers’ pass rush wasn’t nearly as effective last year after Gary tore his anterior cruciate ligament.
The Packers also must determine who will start alongside Savage at safety. The Packers’ signing of former Houston Texans safety Jonathan Owens last week makes it increasingly likely they won’t bring back free agent Adrian Amos, a team captain last season.
“I think anytime that you lose a guy that has had a ‘C’ on his chest, those are tough guys to replace, not only what he brought to us on the football field but what he brought to us in this building, what he brought to us in the locker room every single day,” Barry said.
Even so, the Packers realize they still have plenty of firepower. They’re eager to produce results reflecting the draft capital they’ve invested into that side of the ball.
“I’m very aware of our roster,” Barry said. “I’m very aware of the draft status of all of our players. But expectations are and should be high all the time, and this year will be no different. There’ s absolutely no doubt about that.”
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