Ideally, Charles Woodson never would have broken the collarbone in the first place, but it happened and the Packers’ defense has adjusted accordingly for the past two months.
In the 10 weeks it took for the 15-year veteran defensive back to be cleared for a return to the field, however, it afforded the 36-year-old Woodson the opportunity to rest up for a potential playoff run for the first time in his career.
In his first game back since Oct. 21 on Saturday, Packers coaches planned to monitor his snaps after finally being given the green light this past week to return, but that never happened.
Equipped with bigger shoulder pads to protect the shoulder, Woodson maintained his physicality while playing every defensive snap in the 24-10 victory.
“I certainly didn’t see any reason to bring him off the field,” Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “I thought he was doing all the things we’d asked him to do. I’ve been asked how I think he’ll respond. You never know how a guy will respond. All you have to go off are practices and as you know our practices last week were basically geared toward more walk-throughs just because we were on a short week and you wanted to have the guys as fresh as they could be.”
The goal for the Packers throughout the 2012 season was to tailor their playtime percentages to keep their defense fresh for the postseason. During last year’s one-and-done playoff showing, Capers and his staff felt they overplayed several starters throughout the course of their 15-win regular season.
A rash of midseason injuries this year caused some shifting, but an infusion of young defenders helped carry out that agenda, especially at outside linebacker where undrafted rookie Dezman Moses has been rotating with fifth-year veteran Erik Walden for the past month.
While Walden still believes he can handle an expanded workload, the rest seemed to help his production on Saturday when he had three tackles (two for a loss), two quarterback hits and one sack of Vikings’ backup Joe Webb.
“You’ve seen over the last few weeks Walden and Moses pretty much split time opposite Clay,” Capers said. “When Clay wasn’t playing for a period of time there, those guys were playing a lot and again that’s not an easy position because you’re rushing against 320-pound tackles every snap. To me, the most tiring thing in football is when you have to rush against a big guy down after down. That’s why you see even 4-3 teams rotate those linemen in there and try to keep track of the number of plays.”