The decisions are not final yet. That will not happen for another handful of days, once Matt LaFleur has completed his end-of-season meetings. But the Green Bay Packers’ head coach on Monday expressed confidence that he will make minimal changes to his coaching staff from 2022 to 2023, a sign that he remains confident in the individuals around him.
LaFleur expressed that tentative plan in his season wrap-up press conference on Monday, saying “I don’t anticipate a whole, if any, staff changes at all.” That suggests that LaFleur plans to run back the same staff that led the team to an 8-9 record this season, the team’s first losing season under LaFleur’s charge.
That comment suggests that the individual on the hottest seat of any in Green Bay, defensive coordinator Joe Barry, will likely be back for next season. Barry’s defense fell off a bit from 2021 to 2022, dropping from 9th to 17th in terms of total yards allowed. Although the Packers ranked sixth in passing yards allowed in 2022, an improvement from 10th last season, the team’s net yards per attempt plummeted from 5th to 26th place in the league. DVOA sees a bit of a different story, however, ranking the Packers as a top-ten passing defense in 2022 after a 16th-place finish a year ago, though that is likely due in part to the team’s late-season turnover surge.
Run defense continues to be a problem, however, as teams continue to attack the Packers on the ground seemingly at will. The Packers have been among the NFL’s bottom five teams in yards per carry each of the last two years, finishing 28th with 5.0 yards per carry allowed in 2022, while Barry has never coordinated a defense that ranked higher than 23rd in that number in his career. Likewise, DVOA rated the Packers as the 31st-ranked run defense in 2022 after being 28th in 2021.
However, after a string of 400-yard games allowed in the middle of the season, the defense established a bit of an identity after the team’s late week 14 bye. In the final four games of the season, the Packers averaged just 300 yards allowed per game, forcing nine turnovers including a pair of games with four each. That late-season surge may have saved Barry’s job, similar in a sense to how the Packers closed out the 2021 campaign by allowing just 212 yards and 6 points on defense in a 13-10 playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
LaFleur’s expectation to retain his defensive coordinator would make 2023 the first time that Barry has made it to a third season in three tenures at that position in the NFL. Barry was fired by the Detroit Lions following his second season (the Lions’ 0-16 year in 2008) and after year two in Washington in 2016.
Retaining Barry in turn means that there would be no coordinator opening for former Wisconsin Badgers DC and interim head coach Jim Leonhard, who has been expected to make a jump to the NFL this season. Leonhard was not offered the permanent job in Madison after the university hired Luke Fickell from Cincinnati, and instead elected to move on following the Badgers’ win in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl shortly after Christmas.
Beyond just retaining Barry, LaFleur’s comment also suggests that the team will continue with an offensive coaching staff led by coordinator Adam Stenavich, while Rich Bisaccia would stay on as special teams coordinator. Green Bay’s special teams improved from a last-place DVOA ranking in 2021 to almost league-average at 17th in 2022, a dramatic change driven in large part by the revelation of Keisean Nixon as a return man and significantly improved coverage teams.
Conversely, the offense struggled for much of 2022 as the team’s red zone success has steadily declined since leading the NFL with a ridiculous 80% touchdown rate in 2020. That number dropped to just under 60% (19th place) in 2021 before tumbling even farther in 2022 (52%, 24th). Aaron Rodgers, meanwhile, set career lows in passer rating and yards per game this season.
Evidently, LaFleur believes in his existing staff to shore up the team’s weaknesses for the 2023 season. Now the biggest remaining question for the Packers is the future of Aaron Rodgers, a decision which will likely take the quarterback more than just a few days to make.