Are the Packers Getting the Most Out of Their Talented Secondary?

Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst put together a talented defensive secondary with five starters which on paper rival any group in the NFL. But through the first five games of the season, the results have not consistently met expectations.

The question that must be asked is if the coaching staff is maximizing the available talent they have.

One big question facing the team during the offseason was who would play the “star” position and cover the slot receiver. Thus far, the choice has been Rasul Douglas.

The logic was that Douglas’ intelligence and ability to read defenses would help him play inside. He has less speed than Jaire Alexander and Eric Stokes so they would remain on the outside. So far, it hasn’t worked out that well.

The Packers signed Douglas off the Cardinals practice squad last October and he turned in a career year, leading the Packers with five interceptions in 12 games and returning two of them for touchdowns.

Last season, opposing quarterbacks completed only 50 percent of their passes when throwing to receivers covered by Douglas according to pro-football-reference.com and their passer rating was 44.5.

This year, since he has played mostly inside instead of on the boundary, opposing quarterbacks are completing 81 percent of their passes and have a quarterback rating of 102.6.

Douglas has been struggling on the inside. Last week against the Giants, Douglas was called for two defensive holding penalties away from the play and one questionable unnecessary roughing penalty.

Douglas has minimal experience at the NFL level covering slot receivers. He may not be the best choice to fill that position this year for Green Bay. Thus far in his career, his best work has come in zone or press man coverage on the perimeter.

The Packers also have Jaire Alexander, a Pro Bowl cornerback in 2020 who missed most of the 2021 season with a shoulder injury. Alexander was one of the top cover corners in the league in 2020 and earned Pro Bowl honors despite intercepting only one pass all year. He has elite speed and contagious confidence and an attitude that sets the tone for the defense and the entire team.

Alexander has indicated that he wants to be able to cover the opposing team’s top receiver each week. Unfortunately, the Packers have not done that. Defensive coordinator Joe Barry primarily uses zone defenses to prevent splash plays. But the Packers were unable to shut down Justin Jefferson of Minnesota in Week 1 without Alexander matching up on him, especially in the first half, and they have struggled ever since.

It appears the team could best utilize Alexander to take away the opposition’s best receiver or best option on any given play. But the team has rarely done that this season.

Meanwhile, safeties Darnell Savage and Adrian Amos have struggled with communication and crossing patterns this season. The communication between the members of the secondary has been an issue that has resulted in key gains for opposing receivers. This area needs to be improved.

Based on his skill set, the Packers may be better off utilizing Savage in the “star” role at least part of the time. He can also make more plays closer to the line of scrimmage, something he has done regularly when he played his best football back in the second half of the 2020 season.

The secondary is also not forcing enough turnovers. Through five games, the team has just one interception despite a consistent pass rush. Alexander made the only interception of the year against the Bears in Week 2. Only the New York Giants have yet to intercept a pass this season but the Packers are near the bottom of the league in this category.

One big reason for concern is that the Packers defense has yet to face an elite quarterback this season except for Tom Brady who was missing his top three receivers in that game in Tampa Bay. The Packers faced Justin Fields, Bailey Zappe and Daniel Jones and Jones was also missing many of his top receivers due to injuries.

The schedule will get tougher in a few weeks and better quarterbacks like Josh Allen, Matthew Stafford and Jalen Hurts await later in the season.

The Packers have five highly rated starters in their secondary in Alexander, Eric Stokes, Douglas, Savage and Amos. But they may not be maximizing the talent they have because of the way they’re using them. They have a few more weeks to iron out the kinks before things get more challenging and the pass defense will have to be ready for some major challenges.

You can follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers

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5 points

Comments (52)

Fan-Friendly This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.
T7Steve's picture

October 13, 2022 at 11:30 am

They talked about trying Savage in the slot (he did some last year) and Douglas on top during preseason. I'd like to see them try it. Speed in the corners and slot and big bodies with smarts on top with Amos and Douglas.

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PackyCheese500's picture

October 13, 2022 at 12:10 pm

Yes yes I would like that

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PackyCheese500's picture

October 13, 2022 at 12:10 pm

Yes yes I would like that

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tincada's picture

October 13, 2022 at 11:36 am

Are the Packers Getting the Most Out of Their Talented Secondary, No and hell no. And who's job would that be? Let me see the DC maybe, ha ha ha. The brain trust got snookered again.

6 points
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Coldworld's picture

October 14, 2022 at 09:13 am

I thought the way Gray responded to questions in the softness if coverage was indicative of some distance between him and Barry in the subject. More cracks possibly, but it gives me some confidence that Gray might be a viable alternative if Barry doesn’t change his approach.

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jannes bjornson's picture

October 14, 2022 at 09:58 am

If they wanted to play sponge coverage they should have signed UDFAs or late round picks. Get this guy out the door before the Revolt. If Savage cannot get his shi.. straight playing free, then get a trade in motion. The ILBs need to know the basic drop zones. Get these guys watching the WRs, not the QB.

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Coldworld's picture

October 14, 2022 at 06:23 pm

He’s at least saying the right things

“We’ve looked long and hard at that this week that being able to allow our guys to be aggressive and go get in people’s face,” Barry said. “I think we have the guys to be able to do that and we can do that and we will do that moving forward.”

“I think with this gameplan we’ve got here, it’s pretty flawless,” Jaire Alexander, today.

Seeing is believing. However, until I hear even lip service from LaFleur and Rodgers suggesting that they know their heads are similarly in the wrong place, Barry is at least showing more recognition.

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MooPack's picture

October 13, 2022 at 12:00 pm

This article sums up much.

https://www.si.com/nfl/packers/news/play-of-packers-secondary-has-been-i...

I think the Packers will win the next two games, but I almost hope that the defense gets torched once again and lays bare the failing soft zone defensive scheme of one Joe Barry. Rather that bareness happen now against teams that can be beaten in spite of it than happen later against the playoff caliber teams that will truck this D. I won't hold my breath, but maybe then the Packers will make some wholesale changes

5 points
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PackyCheese500's picture

October 13, 2022 at 12:10 pm

I know. I hope that Mike LaFleur and the Jets offense torches Barry’s defense and exposes him for the fraud he is, I’m almost rooting for the Jets to win.

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HawkPacker's picture

October 13, 2022 at 12:23 pm

Remember, the overall responsibility to our defense falls on head coach LAF. I blame him more than Barry.

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PackyCheese500's picture

October 13, 2022 at 01:35 pm

Overall, maybe, but does he dictate the scheme or call the plays? No, that’s on Barry The Mule

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Coldworld's picture

October 14, 2022 at 09:19 am

Yes, a HC does, or more accurately, he defines what is acceptable and what he expects. That’s why he’s Head Coach in large part. If any successor to Barry is just told to ensure no big plays, it will just be more of the same Pettine/Barry continuum.

This is why it’s going to be very interesting to see if Barry comes out much more aggressively. If he doesn’t change it up, LaFleur obviously isn’t unhappy with it, isn’t managing him/giving instructions, or is effectively ignored by his supposed employees. To me the approach will tell more than actual success in this game.

We are reaching points in both D and O where there’s very little room left to hide. We will see now whether the regime has anything to offer at all.

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jannes bjornson's picture

October 14, 2022 at 10:09 am

When Any phase of football is not optimizing, Belichick takes charge of the operation. He is hands on. He doesn't follow the pass-the-buck philosophy espoused in the flim-flam version of Leadership.

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Untylu1968's picture

October 13, 2022 at 03:25 pm

You suck as a packer fan! Definitely don't carry the G...

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PackyCheese500's picture

October 13, 2022 at 05:23 pm

I only want the Jets to win because I think it is the only thing that will catalyze meaningful change in the organization. A win would just cement our status as an average team that can only beat mediocre or bad teams and would almost certainly lead to another disappointing playoff loss.

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Fubared's picture

October 13, 2022 at 06:45 pm

I thought, dammit I don't remember posting this. Then I realized I didn't but I did post similar elsewhere. until this d get pasted on pass d by a so so team, LeFlower will do nothing.
His hand must be forced now with rams, chiefs, bill, eagles and vikes in the future. Go Jets. I firmly believe this is thee worst pass d in football.

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PackyCheese500's picture

October 13, 2022 at 12:14 pm

Are they? No. Solution? Fire Joe Barry and hire Mike Zimmer. His scheme relies on 4-3 defense, 4-2-5 nickel on passing plays, primarily man coverage and stop-the-run-first mentality, the exact opposite of Barry’s defense and would fit the Packers’ personnel perfectly. Zimmer has a reputation for transforming bad units into good ones quickly, imagine what he could do with the Packers’ defensive players at his disposal…we’d definitely see Quay and Campbell blitz more.

The only way I could possibly see Barry being fired would be if the Jets were to humiliate our defense, score 30+ points, and win on Sunday. I am honestly hoping for that, and Mike LaFleur is a smart guy.

9 points
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Fubared's picture

October 13, 2022 at 06:51 pm

He would never be offered the job because with the lack of talent he would cut half the d and want free agent and draft picks to remold this team. Not to o mention he loves de' s and the pack won't pay the money for them. This d is based on pass rushing from line backers, much cheaper.

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PackyCheese500's picture

October 13, 2022 at 10:41 pm

The OLBs would transition to DE - that was Gary's college position. The team has the talent- they're just not putting the players in a position to succeed. Also DC is not HC.

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coolhand's picture

October 13, 2022 at 12:24 pm

Why not put Stokes in the slot then? And for heaven's sake, stop playing a soft zone so much. Gute drafts coverage guys and they are playing 10 yards off the receiver 75% of the time. And if Barry is a soft zone guy, why was he hired in the first place when your GM drafts and aquires tight coverage players?

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PackyCheese500's picture

October 13, 2022 at 01:19 pm

Solution: fire Barry The Mule hire Mike Zimmer. He plays primarily press man and is stop-the-run oriented. He also has some fun double-A-gap LB blitzes

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LLCHESTY's picture

October 13, 2022 at 01:37 pm

The Lions are running more man coverage than anyone in the league this year. They played man almost 70% against the Vikings a couple weeks ago. Maybe the Packers could just switch defenses with them.

Saying zone is soft and man isn't is overly simplistic. There's way more issues with the execution than the scheme. Maybe the guy that coached up Stokes and Douglas to play well last year simply forgot how to coach. Or maybe the guys talking all training camp about how great they were going to be aren't playing that great right now and needed to be slapped around a bit to wake up.

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PackyCheese500's picture

October 13, 2022 at 01:44 pm

Maybe, we’ll see this Sunday, but also, the Lions don’t have the players that can play man press as good as ours.

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Coldworld's picture

October 14, 2022 at 09:32 am

Certainly true, but this isn’t about Barry’s scheme per se, but about how it’s being implemented. We are playing soft, we didn’t always last year and last year we saw a secondary mostly able to work in relative coordination. Why are we soft? I’d ask LaFleur. The solution to that is simple: “Hey Barry, I don’t want to see more than a yard between DBs and their receivers this week if you like your position.”

The reason for the issues in coverage of crossing routes have me baffled. It’s not one player, but I can’t see a pattern. That said, tighten coverage, zone or man, and play aggressively and I think it gets better too.

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splitpea1's picture

October 13, 2022 at 12:31 pm

They first thing they have to do is stop the crossers, who are responsible for nearly 40% of the passing yards the Packers have surrendered. MLF suggested it is a lack of "pre-snap urgency" and that maybe Barry needs to get the call in quicker so the players can get in position earlier. Maybe that would cut down some of the confusion. The WRs are still getting off the LOS too easily, the coverage is too soft, and the predictable pass rushes aren't really forcing the opposing QBs off their game.

Here's an interesting stat for you: the Packers have only 7 passes defended the entire season, by far the last in the league; the next closest teams have 14. So if you're rarely in a position to defend the pass, it stands to reason that you're not going be getting a lot of interceptions.

Barry is simply not being logical about his game planning and the way he is using his personnel in the secondary. If Douglas is at his best on the outside, then that's where you play him!

The Packers do not have a few more weeks to iron out the kinks--they need to get them ironed out now, starting with the Jets.

9 points
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PackyCheese500's picture

October 13, 2022 at 01:21 pm

Barry The Mule won’t be ironing anything out soon - he’s living in an entirely different world and it’s about time we get rid of him and hire Mike Zimmer, who plays press man primarily and is stop-the-run oriented. I’m sure he or Vic Fangio would live to have the Packers’ defensive resources at their fingertips.

5 points
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LLCHESTY's picture

October 13, 2022 at 01:42 pm

The ILBs certainly haven't been helping with the crossers by not hitting their depths after the snap. The coaches know the calls and who is failing their responsibilities. It might be as simple as taking out Walker and playing more dime on passing downs until he has a better understanding of his assignments. Right now he's straying into rookie Patrick Queen territory. That is not good.

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PackyCheese500's picture

October 13, 2022 at 01:58 pm

Perhaps, with Abernathy as the third safety, maybe. Although he's just had 5 real games so give him credit because he's actually done a decent job.

I think he will get better with more experience, but if he consistently can't cover, could at least some of the fault lay on the coaches? Barry The Mule sure isn't helping

2 points
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splitpea1's picture

October 13, 2022 at 03:12 pm

That is true with the ILBs. And Barry might want to think about sending one of them after the QB once in a while.

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LLCHESTY's picture

October 13, 2022 at 04:10 pm

I'd like to see more green dog blitzes but maybe they're afraid that Walker would get caught in the wash and not cover the RB if he leaks out. With green dogs if the LB doesn't engage the RB or at least make sure he's blocking someone it's an easy catch and run.

According to PFR Walker has blitzed 15 times without a pressure so there is that. Campbell hasn't exactly been on fire in coverage(not terrible either) and is a good blitzer so that's an option too. But if they're going to blitz Campbell Walker HAS to get to his assigned depth.

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Coldworld's picture

October 14, 2022 at 09:35 am

I think that you may be on to something with Walker. Im not sure how we fix that with our roster components, but it’s the most plausible key I’ve seen floated. That would screw up what the slot and everyone are expecting.

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jannes bjornson's picture

October 14, 2022 at 10:21 am

He could come off the edge just as well as shooting gaps. It seems Olivadotti and Gray have their hands tied. Montgomery talked of his inside schemes and we have not seen much of it. Push Campbell to the very middle of zone and force the QB to go there. Get hands on the football, tip passes, do their job.

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stockholder's picture

October 13, 2022 at 12:36 pm

Why can't Douglass play CB? Thats where he made the plays. I get Alexander is the better CB. But move Alexander and let Douglass get the INT. Alexander can play anywhere. He should play the slot. If not; try Savage there and Alexander at FS.

5 points
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PackyCheese500's picture

October 13, 2022 at 01:38 pm

I dunno about Ja at FS, but I agree with you that he should be in the slot and Douglas on the outside. Or, Ja could be outside, Savage could be in the slot, and Douglas could be at FS.

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Fubared's picture

October 13, 2022 at 06:54 pm

Close but I say stokes can't play corner but with his speed he could be a good safety. Move him and put Douglas in the corner. Also safety requires less brains and stokes is missing some.

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jannes bjornson's picture

October 14, 2022 at 10:25 am

Well, Alexander obviously is Not traveling with the opponent's best guy. Savage has to show something in the hitting dept. to play the slot for run/blitz options. I like Ford inside.

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mnbadger's picture

October 13, 2022 at 12:51 pm

Gil, for once, I disagree with you.
Your opening sentence reads "Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst put together a talented defensive secondary with five starters which on paper rival any group in the NFL."
Based on the results so far, it's more like one - JA or at best two - JA and AA - talented starters.
Whether it's scheme, effort, ability or whatever, I haven't seen talent out of the other three.
Savage has been the worst then stokes followed by Rasul imo.
Got to fix something or we're toast and not worthy of a playoff berth. I really like the post about hiring Mike Zimmer as DC.
GPG!

3 points
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PackyCheese500's picture

October 13, 2022 at 01:32 pm

YES! It’s what I’ve been saying all along! FIRE JOE BARRY THE MULE AND HIRE MIKE ZIMMER! He plays in a 4-3, 4-2-5 nickel for passing downs, primarily press-man coverage, and has a stop the run first mentality. Quay and Campbell, who have only blitzed on 15 and 4 percent, respectively, of defensive snaps, would likely be used on some fun double A gap blitzes. I’m sure he or Vic Fangio would love to have the Packers’ defensive personnel at their disposal. Zimmer has been known for quickly transforming horrible defensive units into top ones, so imagine what he could do with the Packers’ defense!

For those who think that he is at fault for the Vikings’ failures these past couple of years, consider that aside from 2 players (Dalvin Tomlinson and Eric Kendricks) every defensive player on the 2020-2021 Vikings was either an old veteran way past his prime (Barr, Griffin), an oft-injured star (Hunter), or just a crappy/not very good player.
Also, if you think that transitioning to a 4-3 would be difficult, Gary, Quay, and Wyatt all played in a 4-3 in college. Campbell and Reed both previously played in 4-3’s for the Falcons and Chiefs, respectively.

I could only see Barry going if the Jets do what the Giants did to us on Sunday, and because the Jets’ supporting cast is way better than the Giants’ they could go beyond that. Mike LaFleur is smart unlike Barry The Mule, and I am honestly hoping that his offense exposes Barry’s defensive scheme for how bad it is and put up 30+ points en route to an upset. That, I think, is the only way this defens will get any better - with Barry The Mule gone

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LLCHESTY's picture

October 13, 2022 at 01:44 pm

Can you repeat that, I think some might have missed the 1st 6 comments.

I guess Harrison Smith was chopped liver the last two years?

2 points
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PackyCheese500's picture

October 13, 2022 at 01:54 pm

Okay, so that's 3 good players. That's so much better

Also your first sentence actually made me laugh - lol.

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Starrbrite's picture

October 13, 2022 at 01:30 pm

Watching the Cowboys defense is how I believed our D would be playing this year.
Gary is our M. Parsons, and we have (on paper at least), better DB’s than Dallas.
The only logical assumption is coaching…?

8 points
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PackyCheese500's picture

October 13, 2022 at 01:34 pm

This is very true, especially considering that Dallas doesn’t have a DT or that great of a secondary compared to ours. On paper, of course, because Dan Quinn is a genius, and Barry The Mule is, well, a Mule, with the brain of one too.

-2 points
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jhtobias's picture

October 13, 2022 at 02:07 pm

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting better results.

Will Joe barry change his scheme . I would guess no either incapable or stubborn. Will Lafluer hold him accountable absolutely not this is what he wants.

Only way this changes if gute or murph put heat on lafluer or the defensive players all break the scheme and ay the right one.

Heck I have more faith in the players than Joe Berry or Lafluer making adjustments . What are they gonna do fire all 11 defensive starters.

5 points
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canadapacker's picture

October 13, 2022 at 02:38 pm

This letting the other team march down to the 20 ( when of course they cant hit the long one ) needs to be somewhat revisited. I mean with the talented Dbacks supposedly and we cant have guys on their guys. I means Jefferson ate us up and yet he got shut down by some old guy in Phillie. There needs to be some sort of mix involved - you cant just run the same D all the time and expect different results. And tackling - why cant we tackle -it seems that the same as special teams - over and over and over - we dont do a good enough job on tackling - especially those one on one chances early in the play. Not since Woodson have we done that well. If they would play on a little bit closer - it also gives their guys less time to make a move. Time to be more creative - and even if you have some of those Dbacks in the box and rushing the passer instead of dropping off - might get some mistakes - but the sign on insanity as they say is doing the same thing over and over and expecting the same result. AR is correct - last year we could have easily lost 4 games - Arizona, Cleveland, Baltimore and the first 49 er game. And it looks like we are going to lose those games this year - because one cant fool the stats for too long - they will catch up.

3 points
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egbertsouse's picture

October 13, 2022 at 06:17 pm

Barry is totally useless but the secondary is not all that talented. Jaire is a B at this point. Douglas and Amos are a C. Savage and Stokes are a D. They may have good RAS numbers but they are not all good football players. Packer homers tend to overrate them.

0 points
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BAMABADGER's picture

October 13, 2022 at 07:18 pm

Are the Packers getting the most from their secondary??? Is Berry a good D coord???

1 points
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LambeauPlain's picture

October 13, 2022 at 09:33 pm

Inconsistent play with talented players is a coaching issue. This analysis by Gil highlights to me Barry does not know how to effectively and efficiently employ his players' strengths to put them into opportunities to win plays.

What in the world is Gray doing? The confused, out of position, misused secondary is on him too.

ML has yet another coaching issue to deal with. We will see what he learned from Drayton's season long floundering last year. How long will he let Barry flop on the sand?

4 points
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PackyCheese500's picture

October 13, 2022 at 10:43 pm

Agreed on all counts. Defense & secondary need to pull it together

0 points
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jannes bjornson's picture

October 14, 2022 at 10:39 am

The brain trust was All Extended during the lazy days of summer. Expect stasis.

1 points
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badaxed's picture

October 14, 2022 at 11:22 am

Leroy Butler could get this secondary going. he expressed interest in coaching (even without pay)' see https://mayfieldsportsmarketing.com/leroy-butler-wants-to-coach-in-the-nfl/
a hall of Famer could command respect and knowledge from this group.

1 points
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Booner's picture

October 14, 2022 at 03:42 pm

Barry is an absolute bust as a DC! Insanity is doing the same thing over and over without any adjustments and expecting a different outcome! There is a reason other NFL teams punted him!

0 points
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Tundraboy's picture

October 14, 2022 at 09:34 pm

Well we all know what the answer to that question is. Talk of misusing your tools.Yeesh

1 points
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