The Green Bay Packers defense relies heavily on
Charles Woodson's leadership in slowing down opposing offenses each week. The
Packers will now have to look elsewhere for their guidance, though, at least
for a few weeks.
Woodson left Sunday's win against the Rams with what turned
out to be a broken collarbone, according to Jay Glazer of the NFL Network. He's expected to miss between four and six weeks with the
The news is devastating for a Green Bay team already saddled
with injuries to defensive playmakers like B.J. Raji (ankle) and Nick Perry
(knee). But, while those players are important, Woodson's absence will be far
more noticeable — even if not physically — and damaging.
Woodson is the eldest statesman and the captain of the
Packers' defense. His intelligence, experience and instincts set him apart from
nearly any other defensive back in the NFL, barring maybe Champ Bailey and
Darrelle Revis. Woodson is an exceptional athlete and one of the primary
reasons for the Packers resurgent secondary this season.
Following a 2011 that saw the Packers reach new historic
lows in pass defense, Woodson has helped steady a much-improved secondary this
Last season, Green Bay ranked dead last in passing defense,
allowing opposing offenses to complete better than 61 percent of passes and
more than 300 passing yards per game. This year, they rank 17th in the NFL
defending the pass and are allowing just 232 yards through the air per game. A
vast improvement for Green Bay, even if only middling compared to the rest of
The good news is that Woodson will likely only miss a little
more than a month, and fortunately for Green Bay, their bye week falls within
that window. So, if that one-month timeline holds up, Woodson will only miss
games against the Jaguars, Cardinals and NFC North rival Lions. But he could be
back in time for a divisional playoff rematch with the Giants on Nov. 25, a
game the Packers undoubtedly have marked on their calendars.
That's all speculation, though. Woodson is 36 years old and
might take a little longer to heal than he used to, which could mean a return
may take even longer than the high line of six weeks.
While Woodson's 38 tackles, 1 1/2 sacks and lone
interception this season haven't exactly been anything to gawk at, his presence
is important to the Packers. So, whether it's four, six or even eight weeks
before Woodson returns, the Packers need someone to step up in the meantime.
Clay Matthews is clearly an emotional leader for this team,
and his 9 1/2 sacks through seven games are proof that he's returned to the form
that saw him win Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2010. He's more than
capable of undertaking the leadership responsibilities. But even beyond
Matthews, someone in the secondary will be leaned on to fill Woodson's role as
a ball hawk and secondary captain in his stead.
Tramon Williams has been the Packers' best cover corner this
season and should continue to find success on the outside. Rookie Casey Hayward
has been a pleasant surprise as well, leading the Packers and the NFL with four
interceptions on the season. But both guys are finding success in their current
roles and shouldn't be burdened with trying to be Woodson.
Instead, the pressure may fall to veteran corners Sam
Shields, when he returns from injury, and even the inconsistent Jerod Bush.
Both players have the talent and understanding of the system to drop back into
the safety position, much like Devin McCourty's done in New England.
There will be plenty of candidates to help fill the void in
Woodson's absence, but more than likely it will be a collective effort from a
number of parties to help keep this secondary from falling into the gutter for
the second straight season.
The last time Woodson broke his collarbone, during Super
Bowl XLV, the Packers ended up hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. The same results
can't be expected this time around, not unless someone steps up to fill the
hefty void in the meantime.
Photo via Facebook/Charles Woodson