Could Packers preview their next DC on Sunday? Maybe, but it's complicated
The Packers will likely change DCs in 2024 and could pursue the Panthers' Ejiro Evero for the job. If so, Green Bay has pros and cons to weigh with his potential candidacy.
After back-to-back defensive disappointments earlier this month placed Green Bay Packers DC Joe Barry squarely in the crosshairs, his boss declined to throw him under the bus. The team will not change defensive coordinators, at least during the 2023 season.
"If I thought that was the best solution today, then we'd make that decision," Packers head coach LaFleur said. "When you're having basic communication problems and you're supposed to be in a certain coverage or certain rotation and we're not getting that communication, that's what's so disappointing to me.
"It starts with myself and then it goes to all of our assistant coaches. Obviously, the coaching wasn't up to the standard. Our performance on the field definitely showed that as well."
But regardless of what LaFleur says publicly, he surely understands that the defense cannot continue under the same leadership. The Packers will have a new defensive coordinator in 2024, and one of the plausible candidates for that job will coach for Green Bay's upcoming opponent: Carolina Panthers DC Ejiro Evero.
Sunday's game won't serve as an introduction, however. Evero worked as a defensive quality-control assistant in Green Bay in 2016 and interviewed for the Packers' defensive-coordinator job when it last opened in 2021. Passing over Evero looks foolish in hindsight as did the team's decision not to make a change this offseason when he became available again. Even so, this offseason could offer a third chance to bring Evero onto the staff.
With that in mind, Evero has a valuable opportunity to impress the Packers this week, though his potential candidacy contains more nuances than appear on the surface.
The Evero advantage
Understanding Evero's appeal doesn't require a lot of digging. The 42-year-old assistant has climbed up the coaching ladder over the past few seasons, rising from a safeties coach with the Los Angeles Rams in 2020 to a play-calling defensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos by '22. Evero caught the league's attention in that role, inheriting a defense that ranked 21st in DVOA the previous year and nearly guiding it to a top-10 finish.
And those numbers don't fully capture Evero's coaching performance in Denver. The Broncos essentially spent the entire in freefall thanks to Russell Wilson's poor play under center and head coach Nathaniel Hackett proving unable to steer the franchise toward success. The front office, seeing no realistic path toward contention in 2022, traded away star pass rusher Bradley Chubb for a first-round pick and a backup running back. Still, Evero's defenses held strong while Hackett remained in place, only allowing more than 23 points in three of those contests.
The Broncos' defensive performance in 2022 served as a valuable reminder about how different coaches running variants of the same system can have unlike impacts. Before landing in Denver, Evero worked for Rams teams that ran Vic Fangio's defense as interpreted by Brandon Staley and Raheem Morris. When Evero joined the Broncos, he succeeded Fangio as the defensive play-caller. But despite the system remaining the same at a foundational level and the players already having familiarity with the concepts, the unit looked transformed under Evero's watch.
"He's done a hell of a job. You saw it a year ago in Denver, what he did there," LaFleur said of Evero this week, adding, "I've got a lot of respect for Ejiro as a football coach. He's a great communicator. He's demanding. He holds guys accountable. I've just got a ton of respect for what he's been able to accomplish."
In Green Bay, Evero could find a situation not unlike the one he found in Denver. The Packers have run a variant of the Fangio system for the past three seasons under Barry, another former Rams assistant with whom Evero worked for four seasons. But whereas Barry's units have routinely struggled with communication -- a major issue for a defense that has run zone coverage on nearly 75% of snaps in 2023, according to NFL Next Gen Stats -- Evero's Broncos didn't experience those breakdowns nearly as often. Neither do the Panthers in 2023.
"You see it on tape. They're very well coached, first of all," LaFleur said of the Carolina defense. "He's got a really good scheme, nice wrinkles to it. I think they play very competitive, really on all three levels. And you definitely see just how hard they play. It jumps off the tape. I think they're third in total yards right now. And I know they're top 10 in a lot of categories and yards per play and all that. I think that's specifically a really telling category. I think he's done a really, really good job there."
And since becoming a defensive coordinator, Evero hasn't coached a defense with as much talent as the Packers possess. Veteran stars Jaire Alexander, Kenny Clark, and Rashan Gary form a stellar core while youngsters Lukas Van Ness, Carrington Valentine, and Quay Walker could develop into field-tilting talents in the near future. Evero had All-Pro corner Patrick Surtain II in Denver and now has Brian Burns in Carolina, but the overall quality of personnel in those two stops falls short of what Green Bay could offer.
Evero can't magically fix all that ails the Packers defense. Still, his track record suggests he can squeeze more out of the group than Barry has.