What the Packers can expect from new defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley

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In a move that took many people by surprise, the Green Bay Packers announced that they hired Jeff Hafley as their new defensive coordinator.

Hafley is coming off a four-year stretch as the head coach of Boston College. Before his time in Massachusetts, he served as defensive backs coach and co-defensive coordinator at Ohio State and spent seven years as a positional coach in the NFL with the Buccaneers, Browns, and 49ers.

What kind of defense will he run? And how will it differ from what the Packers did under Joe Barry?

Jeff Hafley will base out of an even front

One of the hallmarks of Hafley's defense throughout his time at Boston College was his preference for running an even front. That alone marks a big shift for the Packers, who have been basing their defense out of odd fronts since Dom Capers was hired as the defensive coordinator in 2009.

While the Packers would use four-man fronts under Joe Barry, expect to see it much more often now that Hafley is calling plays. If you want an idea of how this might look, just see how the 49ers and Jets have done things up front under Robert Saleh. Hafley spent two years working under Saleh in San Francisco before heading to the college ranks.

Expect plenty of single-high coverages

The other main feature of Hafley's defense is that he wants to live in single-high coverages. In a recent interview with Adam Breneman for Next Up, Hafley described his defensive philosophy at Boston College: "We've been more middle-closed defense with a safety in the middle of the field than probably most people in college football."

It might come as a surprise to some Packers fans, but that's not actually all that dissimilar to Joe Barry. In 2023, the Packers' defense spent most of its time in Cover 3. Their next most popular coverage was Cover 1.

The big difference between what Barry did and what Hafley wants to do is how they get there. Whereas Barry liked to operate out of two-high shells pre-snap before rotating, Hafley's defenses will generally line up in single-high pre-snap.

This means that there is much more of a differentiation in safety roles. Under Barry, the Packers wanted their safeties to be able to do a bit of everything. With Hafley, you can expect to see a much more traditional free safety/strong safety split. With neither of those players on the roster, don't be surprised if this is a position that the Packers target in free agency or the draft.

Packers defense is going to be aggressive

Perhaps the most common criticism of the defense under Joe Barry was that it was "soft." That's not an accusation that you can level at Hafley.

He pairs his preference for single-high defense with a commitment to playing plenty of press coverage. Both of Boston College's starting corners played man coverage on at least 50% of their coverage snaps in 2023. For context, the Packers didn't have a single corner play more than 23% of their snaps in man coverage last season.

Hafley is also aggressive up front. While he isn't necessarily going to blitz opposing quarterbacks a ton, he gets creative with his pressure packages, employing plenty of simulated pressures and creepers to create free rushers.

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