Baranczyk/Christl column: Woodson keys defensive surge

Nov. 7, 2011

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Green Bay Packers defensive back Charles Woodson was his old, disruptive self Monday night against the Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field. / Evan Siegle/Press-Gazette


Last year, there was an ill-founded obsession with the Green Bay Packersí many injuries, although in almost every case they filled in with better players than they lost. This year, the blather over the loss of Cullen Jenkins reached ridiculous proportions last week.

Jenkins was a good one-dimensional player. And his specialty, rushing the passer from the inside, is one that isnít as deep as some others in the NFL. But there are more than a thousand good players in the league.

Collectively, they are important and each one is capable of having a big game on occasion. But, individually, they arenít going to determine who wins the Super Bowl.

Losing Jenkins hasnít hurt the Packers anymore than adding him has helped the Philadelphia Eagles.

Thatís what makes Ted Thompson such an outstanding GM. He not only buys into the philosophy, he has the self-discipline to live by it. And thatís why even after all 31 other teams determined that Jenkins wasnít worth a huge contract and he was available on the cheap, Thompson still let him walk.

From a personnel standpoint, the biggest difference between the Packers defense this year compared to last year were the loss of Nick Collins and the fall-off in Charles Woodsonís play. With Woodsonís cover skills in decline, defensive coordinator Dom Capers essentially created a new position for him last year. And that schematic change allowed Woodson to have a huge impact on games almost weekly.

This year, he hadnít been the same player. But Monday night, Woodson, once again, performed at the level of a great player.

Granted, he missed three tackles early. But he looked like he was playing faster, and he was all over the place. He had eight solo tackles, including dropping Adrian Peterson for a 6-yard loss, an early hit on quarterback Christian Ponder, and three broken up passes, the most impressive of which was the one that led to a replay.

It wasnít as though Woodson was playing poorly through the first eight games. We still saw the heart and the guile and flashes of his old self. But he wasnít dominating games, which is what great players do ó and good players donít ó to dictate the course of a season.

Now, the question is: At age 35, can he do it for 10 more games? Or can he at least do what Reggie White did in 1996, the year he turned 35, and rise to the occasion to make plays when big games are on the line?

Clay Matthews

In truth, thatís what was missing from Matthewsí game this year, as well. When White was at his best and there was a play that needed to be made, nine times out of 10 he was the guy who made it. Matthews was having an outstanding season and maybe he was dropping into coverage more and doing things that took away from his sacks, but he wasnít finishing plays.

He got two sacks in this game, although some of the situations where the Vikings tried to block him one-on-one were rather curious.

On another front, the Vikings like to run a lot of stretch plays and toss sweeps to the perimeter to get Peterson to the corner. Then away he goes. But Matthews and Erik Walden played outstanding, stretching plays to the sideline and not giving Peterson a lot of room to run.

Desmond Bishop

Bishop had an outstanding game. He has 84 solo tackles. Brian Urlacher is supposed to be the class of the NFC Northís middle linebackers, and he has 61. Maybe Bishop is on the doorstep of being a Pro Bowl candidate.

Marshall Newhouse

Considering Newhouse was playing against Jared Allen, he maybe deserved a B-, C+. He wasnít getting beat off the ball and thatís a good sign for a left tackle making his sixth start against maybe the best rushing right end in the game.

Everything Allen got he had to work for. One area where Newhouse needs some work is against inside moves. Thatís where Allen seemed to give Newhouse his biggest problems ó with countermoves. But also keep in mind, the Vikings moved Allen over the guard on occasion, ran some tackle-end stunts; and when Aaron Rodgers was under pressure, it usually started with a breakdown inside.

James Starks/Ryan Grant

With all their weapons, the Packers donít need a Peterson. James Starks is fine for their running game. He runs hard, even punishes defenders at times. And he makes people miss on occasion. Grant had 8 attempts, 6 yards. Heís not a change-of-pace back. What redeeming quality does he bring? Through three quarters, Grant had three more carries than Starks.

Only a team with the Packersí firepower could afford to give players courtesy starts.

Former Press-Gazette sports editor Cliff Christl and former football coach and player Eric Baranczyk offer their analysis of Green Bay Packers games each week.

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