The Green Bay Packers defense was a disappointment in 2022. Joe Barry’s group finished 17th in the league in points allowed and 17th in yards allowed. The rushing defense was 26th in the league in yards allowed and 28th in yards per rush. The pass defense was more respectable, finishing 6th in the league in yards allowed.
The Packers have eight former first-round picks on their roster and talent at almost every position. Players like Kenny Clark, De’Vondre Campbell and Jaire Alexander have been either Pro Bowlers or All Pro. But the team needs to get more consistent production from the defense this season, especially with the inexperienced Jordan Love taking over at quarterback.
Here are five key questions facing the Packers defense as we head into the 2023 season:
- Will Quay Walker and Devonte Wyatt Take 2nd Year Leaps?
The Packers had two first-round picks in the 2022 NFL Draft and selected two defensive players. they added ILB Quay Walker and DL Devonte Wyatt and both played as rookies.
Walker started 16 games and played in all 17. He led the team in tackles with 121 and broke up seven passes. He possesses excellent speed and can run sideline to sideline to track down the ball carrier.
After a slow start where he had difficulty reading plays, Walker’s play picked up later in the season. He was ejected from two games for shoving a trainer and a practice squad player and must control his temper better.
Wyatt didn’t start any games and barely saw the field until later in the season when Dean Lowry was unavailable due to injury. With Lowry and Jarran Reed departed in free agency, the Packers expect Wyatt to become a starter on the defensive line.
The Packers will need bigger contributions from both these second-year players to show improvement on defense.
- Can The Green Bay Packers Stop the Run?
The Packers emphasize stopping the pass, but they can’t be at or near the bottom of the league at stopping the run. Last season, the team frequently needed to stop an opponent late in the game to get the ball back and to have a chance to win a game but couldn’t stop the opposing team from running for a first down.
T.J. Slaton, Walker, Wyatt and Campbell will be among the key players called on to improve the run defense. The team will also look for depth along the line from rookie draft picks Colby Wooden and Karl Brooks.
The Packers don’t need to have an elite run defense to be successful. Even an average run defense would be good enough if the pass defense remains strong.
- Who Will Play Safety?
The Packers expect Darnell Savage to start at one safety position while the other remains wide open. Rudy Ford, Jonathan Owens and Tarvarius Moore are among the top candidates fighting for the other safety position.
The Packers need good safety play and while they have a lot of players competing for playing time, none are proven consistent performers at the position.
Can Savage return to his form of late 2020 when he played at a high level? Is Ford ready to be a full-time starter? Can Owens cover well enough to start and would he improve the run defense?
These are all questions the Packers need answered at the safety position this season.
- Where Will the Pass Rush Come from Until Rashan Gary Returns?
Gary continues to rehab his season-ending knee injury from a year ago. It is not clear yet if he’ll be ready to start the 2023 campaign on time. Gary remains the team’s best pass rusher when healthy and was on a Pro Bowl pace before being hurt in Week 9.
Will Preston Smith have another strong season, or will he regress as he so often has in the past after having a strong season? How much can the Packers get from first-round pick Lukas Van Ness as a rookie?
Will Kingsley Enagbare be able to make a second-year jump and add juice to the pass rush? The second-year man showed flashes as a rookie. Enagbare has looked good so far at OTAs but still must show he can take his game to the next level when it counts.
- Can Joe Barry Get the Most Out of His Talent?
This is the ultimate question on everybody’s mind. Can the Packers often criticized defensive coordinator take a team with eight former first-round picks on the roster and maximize the talent he has on this roster.
Barry kept his job because the Packers defense made adjustments late in the season and played better down the stretch.
But can Barry put together a defense that is effective and aggressive over the course of an entire season? Can they stop playing extensive soft zones that give receivers too large a cushion on third and long? Can Barry design a system that can pressure the quarterback even if Gary is not available or at 100 percent?
Is Barry the right man for the job? He’s under a lot of pressure this year and should be on a short leash if the defense struggles early in the season.
Follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers
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