Key Question for the 2024 Packers: How Quickly Does the Team Pick Up Jeff Hafley’s Defense?

The Green Bay Packers have Super Bowl aspirations in 2024. The team has a young quarterback who looked elite in the second half of last season and a team with talent on both sides of the ball. Like any NFL team in the salary cap era, the Packers have questions and one of the biggest is how quickly the team will get comfortable in Jeff Hafley’s defense.

Hafley is taking over for the departed Joe Barry. As if often the case when a new coach is hired, his style is the opposite of the person he’s replacing. While Barry’s defense was more passive and interested in reacting to what the offense did, Hafley’s is more aggressive and will try to dictate more to opposing offenses. They are also expected to blitz more this season than they did under Barry.

Barry played a three-man front, while Hafley plays a four-man front. The secondary will also play differently. While Hafley’s defense also features zones, the corners will press at the line more frequently and be less passive than Barry’s was. Responsibilities for most players in the new defense will be different than they were over the last three years under Barry’s leadership.

Most players on the field will have different approaches to their positions in the new defense. One example will be for edge rushers. Last year, players like Rashan Gary, Preston Smith, and Lukas Van Ness lined up at outside linebacker. This year, they will be playing defensive end and will start with their hands in the dirt when each play starts.

Many players are excited about the changes. Defensive lineman Kenny Clark expressed that enthusiasm last month when asked about his first impression of Hafley.

“[He’s] fiery, his energy … he's going to bring it,” Clark said. “He's going to challenge everybody to be great. That's what you want as a coach. You want them to hold guys accountable. I think this scheme … it'll be good for us up front. It's going to allow us to be way more disruptive.”

 

The Packers will need their defense to be better this season, especially in two specific areas. Last year, the run defense ranked 28th in yards allowed per game and 23rd in yards allowed per rush. Those numbers need to improve.

The defense also created far too few turnovers a year ago. They were 31st in the league with just seven interceptions, for example. The fact that the offense didn’t turn the ball over much was the only thing that kept the team’s turnover ratio in a reasonable range. They have to improve in this area.

One key to winning the NFC North and gaining home field advantage in the playoffs will be how quickly the players adjust to and are comfortable in the team’s new defense.

The early schedule is challenging for the defense. They will face some talented quarterbacks early in the season and will need to hold up against them for the team to get off to a solid start.

In Week 1 against the Eagles in Brazil, the Packers will face Jalen Hurts of the Eagles. Hurts struggled late in the season, but earned Pro Bowl honors and is also a very mobile quarterback who can escape pressure and make plays on the run.

Week 2 will bring on second-year man Anthony Richardson who also has mobility and a strong arm although he lacks experience. Richardson is also mobile and can make plays when his pocket collapses.

Other quarterbacks the Packers will face in the first half of the season include Matthew Stafford, Kyler Murray, C.J. Stroud, Trevor Lawrence, and Jared Goff.

The defense will have to be ready for these quarterbacks and the offenses they run. If the team struggles early as they learn the new defense, it could cost them a few victories. That could be critical in the playoff race or even cost the Packers a playoff spot depending on how long it takes to get comfortable in the new system.

The Packers face many challenges in 2024. Getting the team to be comfortable in the new defense will certainly be one of them.

 

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Comments (40)

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Leatherhead's picture

May 18, 2024 at 12:05 pm

We were 10th in scoring defense last year, we wouldn't have had to blow everything up, we chose to do it. We don't get to blame "newness" for bad performances.

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SicSemperTyrannis's picture

May 18, 2024 at 12:42 pm

It'll be interesting to see what they do. It'd be hilarious if our defense starts with a very similar scheme to what the league is used to from the Packers, just to throw everyone off. Then when the Eagles adjust, switch to the new approach. Let opponents try to scout THAT, lol

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Alberta_Packer's picture

May 18, 2024 at 01:03 pm

I think that the Eagles will have their hands full just trying to implement their own offensive and defensive schemes - as they have hired 9 new coaches - including an OC and DC. In addition, they were a team in decline by last season's end. Whereas the Packers were ascending. It seems that the Eagles have more moving parts to deal with than the Packers. So I'll be placing a couple of bucks to win on the Packers.

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LLCHESTY's picture

May 18, 2024 at 02:22 pm

The Eagles will be a good test and then they have a stretch of 3 games against average or worse QBs; Richardson(showed flashes but missed most of his rookie year), another 2nd year QB in Levis and then either Darnold or McCarthy. Hopefully that stretch allows the D to get settled in and then we'll get a good feel for what the defense will be when they face the Rams and Stafford.

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LLCHESTY's picture

May 18, 2024 at 01:27 pm

Joe Barry fanclub, members:1

Settling for good(and it really wasn't that good) when great is within reach is a sure way to NOT get to a SB.

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Leatherhead's picture

May 18, 2024 at 01:38 pm

Can you be a fan of the league's #10 defense without being a fan of Joe Barry? It has to be personal, as far as you're concerned?

Last year, in our first four games, the defense played well in Chicago, they played well for 3 quarters in Atlanta, they played well against New Orleans, and they had a bad outing against Detroit. We'll see what we do this year. I mean, we added 4 or 5 starters, so we should be better.

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LLCHESTY's picture

May 18, 2024 at 02:13 pm

Its easy to be a top 10 scoring defense when you play 10 games against QBs that are no longer with the teams they were on last year. There was also a stretch of games where the offense was so bad teams could play conservatively and know they still had a very good chance to win.

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Leatherhead's picture

May 18, 2024 at 03:57 pm

That's just a bunch of bass-ackward, cart-pushes-horse, nonsense

We played SIX games against Top 10 scoring offenses.

We crushed #1 Dallas
We held SF 5 points below their average, on their own field, despite turning it over a couple of times.
We split with Detroit. We had one of our worst defensive games in Week 4, but we came back and snotslapped the Lions on Thanksgiving.

The Rams had their worst game of the season against us. Granted, they had guys injured, but we had guys injured when Tampa Bay was making us look bad.

And the Saints finished with 17 and were held scoreless the 4th quarter.

5 of those 6 games we held top offenses below their average.

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LLCHESTY's picture

May 18, 2024 at 04:41 pm

Talk about cherry picking. How about the four games giving up 200 yards rushing, including one against a QB that probably will be selling cars this year? You can't pick out having their best games against good opponents when they had a bunch of crap games against crappy opponents.

You can keep saying they were a good defense last year but anyone who watched the games won't believe you.

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Leatherhead's picture

May 18, 2024 at 08:40 pm

Those four games you just cherry picked? We had 7 turnovers in 3 games and only one team got over 25. Coincidence? You think the team is as bad as it is at it’s worst, and not as good as they are at their best.

The median rush yardage against this team was under 120..

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LLCHESTY's picture

May 19, 2024 at 08:20 am

Stafford missed one game last year except for week 18, the Packers game. If he would've played and the Rams hit their average points per game the Packers would have finished 17th in scoring and out of the playoffs. I'd call that lucky.

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Coldworld's picture

May 19, 2024 at 08:41 am

Ok, you still seem to be convinced Barry’s D was adequate or better. Even if, and I firmly believe otherwise, you are correct, Barry is not here and this D is going to be significantly changed.

Hafley has made that quite clear that the approach will be significantly different as a whole and positionally over and above the base switch and accepting that base will still be secondary to nickel in snap volume.

That is going to take time to develop coordination and understanding from players who likely won’t see too many snaps as a unit in preseason games. Add in the fact that the S position is likely 2 new starters and ILBs predominantly probably.

The majority of the likely back field has not played together really. In the front 7 new players at ILB and changed roles elsewhere. That all takes time to come together optimally.

Historically, new defenses take about a third to half a season to fully gel on average. Just because you don’t like Barry being gone and regardless of whether you are right or wrong about that, has sod all to do with reasonable expectations. This will take time to play out.

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Alberta_Packer's picture

May 18, 2024 at 12:43 pm

With a new DC and a new scheme - the D will be a work-in-progress. Success will then be determined by how quickly the players can translate the new scheme into on-field performances. What bodes well is that the entire D-Line and CBs are returning - as well as the majority of LBs. In all, this should accelerate the learning curve. Even the Safety position - which has been totally re-worked - presents a higher level of performance starting Week 1. I fully expect that the D will be humming by mid-schedule.

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cdoemel's picture

May 18, 2024 at 06:13 pm

That’s not at all what both LaFleur and Hafley have said. They’ve said it won’t be that different. Hafley said it in his first press conference.

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Johnblood27's picture

May 19, 2024 at 05:46 am

yeah, because coaches always like to tell the rest of the league, through the press, exactly what and how they will be setting up and playing their schemes.

I believe that.

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splitpea1's picture

May 18, 2024 at 01:20 pm

I don't think it will take too long, but we can't expect them to get there overnight, either. Defenders by nature want to be aggressive, and I guarantee the veterans will be very enthusiastic about the new approach. The good news is that with an entirely new safety corps and a pair of new linebackers, they won't have to unlearn any passive tendencies from the previous regime. Both Gary and Van Ness have experience playing on the defensive line in college, so there's nothing new there. I would hope the number of PDs and interceptions increase with tighter coverage; after all, it's difficult to do these things when you're not in a position to do so.

We'll see how good Hadley's word is when it comes to an emphasis on tackling; need to wrap up and minimize the whiffs, diving at feet, chicken wing attempts, etc.

Run defense? We'll see, but it will probably take more of a concerted effort not just from the coaching, but the management to bring in defenders who excel at this. The linebackers are kind of light, and most of the DLs are more suited to rushing the passer versus holding up against a power running game; a prime example is Wyatt, whose run defense grade dropped significantly and missed a fair amount to tackles--but he did well pressuring and sacking the QB. Slaton's snap count could drop in the new 4--3 defense, and the Packers probably move on from him after his contract expires after this season. Slaton isn't bad, but you would like a little more consistency, and I think it's going to take more than a Day 3 pick to shore up the nose the way you would like to.

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LLCHESTY's picture

May 18, 2024 at 02:07 pm

One thing to keep in mind is that every single one of the top 5 defenders they drafted this year had success while blitzing and I doubt that was a coincidence. Bullard didn't have any sacks last year but had 3½ in '22 when he played mainly in the slot. Evan Williams has 4½ sacks last year and Jim Nagy said he was the best blitzer of the guys the Packers drafted. Seeing how Cooper had 8 sacks that's saying something.

Hopefully Wyatt shows more against the run this year but if he doesn't maybe they play Brooks more on early downs and leave Wyatt to play mainly as a passing down rusher. I kind of agree on Slaton but if they extend Clark he will be the main NT.

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Coldworld's picture

May 19, 2024 at 09:55 am

With so much suggested change in what is going to be asked if players but so little detail and no visual clues as yet, I’m willing to give most a fairly blank slate. Let’s see what they are actually doing and how well before we adjudicate fit and upside. How big was the Barry effect on guys like Wyatt, Jaire, Stokes, even Slaton? For some it may prove negligible and for others a revelation

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LLCHESTY's picture

May 18, 2024 at 01:55 pm

Hafley stressed a few things at his presser last week that gives clues to what to expect from the defense. He said he asks players to buy in with their attitude, effort and commitment and likes what he's seen so far. He also stressed about building a solid foundation with fundamentals and techniques, which the last couple defenses definitely lacked.

Mike Wahle broke down some BC tape this week and pointed out a couple plays that he didn't think would work in the NFL. That's one place I could see them struggle with early while Hafley adjusts back to the pros. But overall I feel good about Hafley's ability to adjust to the player's strengths, something the last guy definitely lacked. Hopefully the days of allowing 200 yard rushing games are in the rearview.

https://youtu.be/PuieeZQfAR0?si=YNdJHBp1MSGtf4iA

https://youtu.be/PuieeZQfAR0?si=YNdJHBp1MSGtf4iA

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Coldworld's picture

May 19, 2024 at 09:47 am

Just because Hafley did things in college doesn’t mean he will in the pros. He’s supposed to be very good at scheming for his player strengths and opponents weaknesses.

The big question is not whether this play or that play translates, but whether his defensive mind and his core philosophy do.

At this point all I can say is that it seems better suited to how I see the strengths of the majority players we had rostered last year overall and, less surprisingly, to the rookies.

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CanPackFan's picture

May 18, 2024 at 05:06 pm

One thing that ALWAYS pissed me off about the Barry defense was how bad it was against the run. The run games eats up the clock and keeps your offense off the field. When u have a good qb that can put points on the board, that style of defense is in itself, self defeating.

Anything u do on defense in the NFL has its strengths and weaknesses. I get that. And while I get that a pressing, attacking defense may give up some big plays, I'd rather see opposing offenses off the field sooner than later and our offense on the field for longer/ more often.

Am I saying that the grass looks greener on the other side in respect to the new GB defensive philosophy? You bet I am. For now at least. Hopefully, by mid season I won't be saying "serenity now"? GPG

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Guam's picture

May 19, 2024 at 06:48 am

Barry always had his D-linemen play a two gap, read and react style of defense. I never thought the Packers had the right D-linemen to play that kind of defense. You have to have guys that can really anchor down to be effective in a two gap style.

Hafley prefers a one gap, penetrate and disrupt style with his D-line and I think the current Packer D-linemen (except perhaps Slaton) are much better suited to this style of play. How that translates to the run defense as well as pressuring the passer remains to be seen, but I am more optimistic about the defense than I have been in years.

I do believe it will take awhile for both the D-line and the secondary to learn how to play in this new scheme. While they will line up in the same 4-2-5 look that Barry used, between a one gap, penetrate and disrupt D-line and more press man coverage in the secondary the style of play after the snap will be much different (and that will require some learning curve).

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cdoemel's picture

May 18, 2024 at 06:11 pm

Haven’t LaFleur and Hafley both said that the “scheme” won’t be much different from the previous defense?

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Fubared's picture

May 18, 2024 at 08:15 pm

Ya you can bet they didn't toss joes book away considering they failed to draft any edge guys. this is be very similar to joes

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LLCHESTY's picture

May 18, 2024 at 08:20 pm

How many of your friends can fit in the car with you?

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Johnblood27's picture

May 19, 2024 at 05:49 am

IF... they have any...

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GregC's picture

May 18, 2024 at 08:26 pm

Maybe you're thinking of when they said that nowadays most defenses are in a 4-2-5 alignment most of the time. But the style of the defense will be pretty different, with more press coverage and blitzing, among other things.

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cdoemel's picture

May 19, 2024 at 10:12 am

Style, yes. Scheme, not so different from what I’ve read or heard. But even that should be mitigated by Hafley’s repeated desire to simplify things so they can play fast.

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MitchAnthony's picture

May 18, 2024 at 10:10 pm

New coordinator, new scheme, new players. I will hope for the thing I hope for annually.

Willing, able, and solid tacklers. No whiffing on a shoulder dive. No slipping the grasp. If Hafley can get that fundamental down, that'll be a good thing.

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TKWorldWide's picture

May 19, 2024 at 07:17 am

Years ago when the Packers were trash and never made the playoffs, the thing that stuck out to me was the tackling. I’d have watched every Packer game all season and “gotten used to” seeing a lot of missed and broken tackles. Watching other teams in the playoffs, I’d always say “Man, these guys don’t miss many.”
That is probably the number one thing I am expecting and hoping for next season from GB: much better tackling.

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vin0770's picture

May 19, 2024 at 07:41 am

I’ll be happy if we don’t turn Baker Mayfield and “Danny” DeVito into offensive players of the week! Still sticks in my memory how bad, bad was last year. GPG

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Starrbrite's picture

May 20, 2024 at 09:40 pm

Good point vin. …and losing to Ridder and DeVito a was like being waterboarded.

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HarryHodag's picture

May 19, 2024 at 09:36 am

The one thing about aggressive defense is you are also much more likely to get burned, especially deep.

I think of the '85 Bears and the Ravens defenses. They were aggressive but not stupid. Blitzing all the time is quickly read and exploited. You need really good personnel to get their jobs done. The other possible hole in an aggressive defense is the running game. If the back can get past the line and bust a tackle it can turn into a long gain.

When you blitz you expose your outside people because there's little if any help from the safety position. If Jaire can grow into the db he's capable of being, no problem there. But the other corner is a question.

I agree with being a little more aggressive but it has to be done with brains and matching available personnel with the scheme.

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Coldworld's picture

May 19, 2024 at 12:38 pm

This is true. Both styles can be beaten, neither can be played all the time or they will be exploited by any good team. In my opinion, Barry had the needle too far too preventative far too often himself.

Which style works best as the default? Well that depends on two things, how smart and situationally aware is the play caller? What suits the players we have such that it makes them most effective as a group?

I don’t know about Hafley. The talk about him is good for the most part and he sounds very plausible, but he hasn’t really done it in the NFL.

As to the players, in my view our front 7 and secondary are clearly better suited to a more aggressive line and press style default on paper and in the secondary, from what we’ve seen in the past.

Don’t play against your own strengths any more than one has to. That makes you worse than you should be. Hopefully, as we understand it, we should be moving in from doing just that.

As far as Hafley’s tactical and situational abilities, we probably have to wait till in season to find out if he’s the real thing or another false hope.

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Bitternotsour's picture

May 20, 2024 at 01:13 pm

I seriously doubt that Barry was hired to run a conservative defense, but he was retained to continue running it. That is 100% indicative that it was what LaFleur wanted.

Hafley has been hired in large part because he can defend his defense in front of the press. Perhaps that will allow Matt to forego his own timidity. LaFleur famously said, all gas, no brakes. When the rubber hit the road, he hit the brakes repeatedly.

I give LaFleur a partial pass because he had to co-manage the team with #12, and now that he's free to do it his way, we will see.

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LLCHESTY's picture

May 19, 2024 at 08:07 pm

I'd bet the '85 Bears sent at least 5 on 95% of their snaps on defense. That was likely the most aggressive defense ever. Ryan never matched that success anywhere else because he never had that much talent again.

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Doug_In_Sandpoint's picture

May 19, 2024 at 07:18 pm

We will win the SB while learning the new defense. Then over the next few years when we win a few more we can work on going undefeated and unscored on.

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Leatherhead's picture

May 20, 2024 at 11:18 am

We'll be fine on defense, then, as long as we have one of the greatest groupings of defensive players in the last half century, and they stay healthy. I'm so relieved.

It's called gambling. You're sacrificing coverage to get pressure and if the pressure doesn't work, you've left yourself vulnerable. I hope it works, I really do.

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Lphill's picture

May 20, 2024 at 12:18 pm

last season, losses Pats 21-17, Raiders 17-13, Broncos 19-17, Steelers 23-19, Giants 24-22 all on the defense?

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Bitternotsour's picture

May 20, 2024 at 01:19 pm

Improved offense immediately makes the defense better.

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