The Green Bay Packers run defense has struggled in recent seasons and that has been a big problem for the team. In 2023, the Packers defense ranked 28th in the league in rushing yards allowed per game and an average of 4.4-yards per rush which ranked 23rd. The team’s struggles against the run hurt their ability to win games at times. The Packers have switched defensive coordinators, moving on from Joe Barry and hiring Jeff Hafley. Improving the run defense will be important for the team and while they don’t have to be elite, they do need to stop the run better. Here are five reasons the Packers run defense could be better in 2024:

Packers Run Defense Factor Number 1: The Jeff Hafley Factor

Hiring Hafley has changed the Packers defensive mindset. Hafley wants to be more aggressive and dictate things to opposing offenses. Barry was more reactive and tried to contain big plays then hoped the offense would make a mistake.

Many of the players are already excited about Hafley’s arrival. “He’s going to challenge everybody — challenge everybody to be great,” defensive lineman Kenny Clark said before the draft. “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.”

Veteran cornerback Jaire Alexander is also excited about Hafley’s hiring. “He’s been great since day one,” Alexander told reporters at OTAs. “[He] preaches aggression, getting after everything. He’s a cool guy. You see it across the board, we’ve got a bunch of athletes on the field who like to make plays and can make plays. I think this is going to work really well.”

Yes, the Packers are still only at OTAs, but the early outlook of the veteran leaders on defense is a positive one. The team is buying into this new strategy. The Packers hope this new attitude and aggressive approach on defense improves both morale and performance.

Factor Number 2: A Four-Man Front

In addition to a new defensive coordinator, the Packers have a new defensive formation. Barry played a three-man front, Hafley is committed to playing a four-man front.

This means edge rushers like Rashan Gary, Preston Smith, and Lukas Van Ness will start plays with their hands on the ground as defensive ends rather than standing up as outside linebackers.

Having more lineman on the field at the snap of the ball and playing a more aggressive system should give the defense a chance to stop running plays more effectively than they did the last three years under Barry.

Packers Run Defense Factor Number 3: Speed at Linebacker

The Packers are trying to create a lineup with more speed at linebacker. If that works, the team should be more successful at running down ball carriers and preventing longer and more consistent gains on the ground.

The team parted ways with veteran De’Vondre Campbell and selected Edgerrin Cooper with their first pick in the second round, the 45th overall selection. Cooper and Quay Walker give the Packers a pair of very speedy linebackers who can make plays from sideline to sideline.

This, combined with having more bodies to occupy blockers in front of them, could help improve the run defense.

Packers Run Defense Factor Number 4: Better Safety Play

The Packers tried to get by last season with a group of safeties that most scouts considered shaky. However, none of the top three safeties from last season are still on the roster. The Packers signed free agent Xavier McKinney from the Giants and drafted Javon Bullard from Georgia with their second pick in the second round.

The Packers will also have Anthony Johnson, Jr. returning for his second NFL season and later round picks Evan Williams and Kitan Oladapo.

If the roster turnover can provide the Packers with better run support from the safeties, that could also improve the run defense for the Packers.

Factor Number 5: The Improvement of Young Players

In addition to Cooper and Bullard, linebacker Ty’Ron Hopper who they selected in the third round, the Packers have many young players entering their second or third NFL seasons who could take a jump forward this season.

Karl Brooks and Colby Wooden will be back along as part of the defensive line rotation. Devonte Wyatt will have a chance to thrive in the new defense as will T.J. Slaton.

The Packers will have young players at all three levels of their defense and the team is hoping these players can make an impact on the team’s play against the run this season.




Follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers

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