Packers ‘attack front’ under Jeff Hafley should result in more disruption

By: Paul Bretl 5/15/24

Under new defensive coordinator Jeff Hafely, one of the more noticeable differences in his system compared to Joe Barry’s will take place along the defensive front, where the defenders will be responsible for attacking one-gap rather than trying to defend two of them.

In Barry’s two-gap defense, as the name suggests, each member of the defensive line was responsible for two gaps, tasked with reading the movements of the offensive line and the backfield, then determining which gap was the most vulnerable and trying to fill it. Interior defenders are more so space eaters in this style of defense, helping to create opportunities for the edge rushers and linebackers to make the plays.

In Hafley’s defense, however, with the defensive line responsible for only one gap, there should be a much more proactive play style instead of reactive, with the front asked to get north and south quickly, penetrating their way into the backfield, rather than reacting to what the offense is doing.

Former Packers defensive lineman Mike Daniels said that the role of the defensive line in this system is “simplified” as it allows them to “cut it loose.” Kenny Clark said that it should allow the front to be “way more disruptive.”

“It’s an attack front, guys,” said defensive line coach Jason Rebrovich. “If you put the tape on with San Fran, Houston, the Jets, things like that, been very fortunate in my background being in Buffalo and in Jacksonville and that’s really what we did back then, so been fortunate to be around it. 

“But it is, it’s about TFLs and sacks. We’re going to look to create havoc in the backfield. Every down, we’re looking to penetrate and make something big happen. Offensive linemen, not moving so fast laterally, they’re going to have to stay on the line of scrimmage a little bit longer with the movements and the ability for us to get in the backfield.”

As already alluded to, this system should benefit the entire defensive front, but one player whose name keeps getting brought up as someone who will thrive playing this way is Devonte Wyatt, as this one-gap defense fits his skill set and play style to a tee. 

Last season, Wyatt’s 48 pressures were the fourth-most on the team and the 20th-most in the NFL among his position group. He also ranked 12th in pass rush win rate, but a new level of play for Wyatt under Hafley could be unlocked. 

“The thing about Devonte Wyatt he’s quick, fast, and athletic,” Rebrovich said. “So you’re going to have to develop things around him to use those attributes. So what a great opportunity for him and us. 

“That’s the mindset that we’re working to develop is creating those TFLs, that mindset of getting into the backfievery one he executes everyone of those. He checks all the boxes. So we’re definitely looking for a great outcome for that young man for this upcoming season.”

If the Packers defense as a whole is going to improve in 2024, it starts with more consistent play upfront. In 2023, the Packers’ pass rush ran very hot and cold, recording seven games where they pressured the quarterback on 45 percent of more of his dropbacks, which is an excellent rate. However, on the flip side, there were also seven games where Green Bay pressured the opposing quarterback on fewer than 30 percent of his dropbacks, which is the opposite of excellent.

Then as we all know, the run game continued to provide this unit with issues, with the Packers ranking 23rd in yards per carry allowed, along with giving up a league-high four games of 200-plus rushing yards. 

Success for any defense starts up front. The best way to slow any offensive play is with a quick push up the middle. Slowing the run puts the offense in obvious passing situations, giving the defense the advantage in coverage and allowing the front to pin its ears back, while pressure leads to mistakes that can hopefully be capitalized on. 

Ultimately, it’s up to the players on the field to execute and make plays, but Hafley’s defense should create more opportunities for the Packers’ defensive line to be in positions to make that happen.

“Anytime you’re trying to create things in the backfield, you’ve got to have the whole group swarm to make the play,” added Rebrovich. “Can’t just be one guy making the tackle. So, you’ve got to make sure when you are creating a new line of scrimmage, when you are working to get in the backfield, there’s other guys that are going to converge. You can’t just sit there and watch one guy try and work to make one play. 

“We’re the first line of defense. The rest of the guys are going to sit back there and do what they need to do. We are going to work to get our forces in first. If that force goes in and is able to create that great opportunity for us defensively, then let’s go to the next play.”