National Football League
For Packers and Jordan Love, success now hinges on the defense
National Football League

For Packers and Jordan Love, success now hinges on the defense

Published Jun. 18, 2024 12:34 p.m. ET

Green Bay did it again.

They ushered in their third-straight franchise quarterback in three decades. Jordan Love took the youngest team in the NFL to the divisional round of the NFC playoffs with a wild-card drubbing of the Dallas Cowboys on the way there. In the final eight games of the regular season, Love threw 18 touchdowns against just one interception. He grew and developed alongside his weapons and showed Green Bay its strategy of quarterback succession still works. 

Pending a new deal, Love and the Packers offense is all set.

There's room to get better, of course. Love's first-year numbers were impressive at 4,159 passing yards and 32 touchdowns. His completion rate and success rate ranked within the top 10 of the league, as well. The next step is consistency and for Love to prove he isn't lightning in a bottle.


For the Packers to take that next step, the team around Love has to take it with him. Love now has a high-priced running back in Josh Jacobs to lean on in the backfield but he'll also have to be able to lean on the other side of the ball. The side with eight first-round picks. The side that just signed Xavier McKinney to one of the richest safety deals in the league. 

Green Bay has gone through a defensive overhaul after dismissing Joe Barry in favor of former Boston College head coach Jeff Hafley. The new defensive coordinator will be switching the team's scheme to a base 4-3, something not seen in Green Bay since 2008, albeit a more fluid version of that 4-3 than perhaps the last time. Safeties are crucially important in Hafley's system, so Green Bay made sure to have depth at the position between McKinney and its draft class.

The change was sparked by the Packers' under-performance on defense not just last year, but for the past couple of seasons. Love was supposed to inherit a unit that could complement his side of the ball in his first season. He was supposed to be able to lean on the defense and instead, Green Bay's defense ranked 26th in defensive success rate, according to the NFL's Next Gen Stats. They allowed the eighth-highest quarterback rating of any team in the league. They were 24th against the run by success rate, as well.

The good news is, it seems things are about to change.

"You can tell the energy around the building from top to bottom is great, especially on defense having a whole new staff, kind of a whole new life," defensive end Rashan Gary told reporters last week. "We're loving it on defense and with the offense, I love their swagger. It's not like last year at all."

Why Jordan Love deserves a big contract with the Packers

Mandatory minicamp served as an evaluation of players' skillsets and confirmation that the scheme Hafley will deploy will fit each of them.

"It's still about the players," Hafley said last week. "It's not about the scheme right now, it's about the players. It's about our job maximizing their ability. Now that we see what we have, we have to make sure we do that."

According to Hafley, the players are "so bought in" and he's spent the spring learning who they are and what they do well. He's also stressed fundamentals and technique to the players themselves to get that evaluation. That hasn't gone unnoticed by the players themselves, and it's gotten them feeling optimistic that the defense can hold up its end of the bargain this year.

"When you play in a new system you want to understand how you're going to be used and make sure that you're not underutilized and you get to actually show your talent and play at a high level," said defensive end Preston Smith, who is looking forward to rushing the passer a bit more this season. "I think with this system, we got a lot of talented guys on every level and I feel like with these calls he's making and all the progress I see in practice that's there are going to be a lot of guys making a lot of plays this year. The Green Bay defense is going to be causing a lot of plays and helping the offense be in position.

"This team, the young guys on offense that we have with Jordan Love, this receiving corps and our backfield and our offensive line, I think it's going to be a lot of big things happening this year for the Green Bay Packers," Smith continued.

Perhaps the most encouraging thing of all is that the Packers seem to know their success this season depends on the defense. It started in the front office with the uncharacteristic signing of a high-priced free agent in McKinney. With spending multiple draft picks on that same crucial position. Let's not forget about defensive end Edgerrin Cooper, who Green Bay took in the second round as well.

Four of the six highest cap hits on the team are on the defensive side of the ball this year.

The Packers have shown by their actions they aren't concerned with the offense. That question has been answered. To build upon last year's success and take the next step in continued success, Green Bay knows it rests on the shoulders of the defense this year.

Carmen Vitali covers the NFC North for FOX Sports. Carmen had previous stops with The Draft Network and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. She spent six seasons with the Bucs, including 2020, which added the title of Super Bowl Champion (and boat-parade participant) to her résumé. You can follow Carmen on Twitter at @CarmieV


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