Nobody in Green Bay has gotten more negative attention over the last few years than Joe Barry. Aaron Rodgers may be the possible exception, but he’s no longer with the team, and wasn’t the main source of consternation among Packers fans during his tenure the same way that Barry has been.
But while it once seemed like a foregone conclusion that Barry would be gone after the season, either because his contract expired or via a pink slip, I think we now have to be at least open to the possibility, if not the likelihood, that he’ll be back in Green Bay for 2024 and beyond.
If Barry sat down with Matt LaFleur today to make a case for keeping his job, he’d have a strong argument. Even allowing for their consistent sins in the run game, the Packers’ defense has consistently put the Packers in positions to win. They currently rank ninth in the league in scoring defense and boast the eighth-best scoring percentage in the red zone. They’ve regressed in other metrics from last year, but at its best, Barry’s defense has exemplified what a bend-but-don’t-break unit can be.
The defense has also been at its best during the Packers’ recent renaissance. Over the past five weeks, the Packers have allowed just 17.4 points per game, never allowing more than 23 in a given contest and holding opponents to 20 or less three times. It’s fair to point out that two of those five games came against Brett Rypien, now on his second team since he started for the Rams that day and the perpetually whelming Kenny Pickett. But it’s equally fair that the other three performances were against Justin Herbert, Jared Goff, and Patrick Mahomes. Did they truly shut down any of those quarterbacks? No, but they accomplished the most important goal and kept them from putting up big points.
They’ve done all this despite absences throughout the season from some of their biggest names. Jaire Alexander has been off the field as much as on it. Darnell Savage has been banged up, as has De’Vondre Campbell. Eric Stokes lasted all of four snaps in his return from injured reserve. Rasul Douglas left for good in late October.
Yet the defense, in its own way, hasn’t missed a beat, and the performances Barry’s staff has wrung from its young players — or veterans who previously haven’t played big roles — is a big reason why. Carrington Valentine is playing like a veteran. Corey Ballentine, a career special teamer before arriving in Green Bay, has played more than 300 snaps for this defense. Rudy Ford and Jonathan Owens, neither one a star with the Jaguars and Texans, respectively, have been generally reliable, Ford especially so. And up front, Karl Brooks has chipped in solid performances for a rookie day-three pick.
Is all of this relatively faint praise? Admittedly, yes, but it’s praise nonetheless. The defense, by and large, has held up its end of the bargain this season. I don’t think we should be surprised if the guy who runs it gets another crack at the gig in 2024.