Packers Secondary: Questions and Answers About Woodson’s Return

Charles Woodson

Packers DB Charles Woodson is close to returning.

It appears that Charles Woodson is close to returning to the Packers. That’s great news.

So, what are the Packers going to do with him?

As soon as Clay Matthews got hurt, you saw an immediate decline in the pass rush. There hasn’t been a major dropoff in pass coverage with Woodson injured. In fact, we’ve seen a few young players step up and emerge with Woodson out.

Getting Woodson back will be helpful, but it also will raise some questions about how the secondary will look. Here are a few of those questions:

  • Will Casey Hayward’s playing time get cut? It’s hard to put this kid on the bench. He covers well in the slot and makes plays on the ball when he’s in the area. Watching Woodson trying to cover a good slot receiver these days is not very fun. Woodson might be a better tackler than Hayward, but not by much.
  • Will Davon House’s playing time get cut? House plays with an attitude. He’s far from perfect, but he attacks whoever he’s trying to cover on the outside. Plus he’s big. Woodson can’t play on the outside any more so I don’t see him cutting into House’s opportunities. Maybe if Woodson plays inside, Hayward would get kicked to the outside, but that doesn’t seem realistic, either.
  • What about Sam Shields? Oh yeah, Shields. Remember him? He’s close to returning, too. He might cut into House’s playing time some, but I don’t think Shields’ return will impact Woodson much.
  • Couldn’t you just put Woodson back at safety? Makes sense to me. Have Jerron McMillian and/or M.D. Jennings done enough to make us forget about Woodson? I don’t think so. There has been some dropoff in toughness against the run with Woodson out. I think McMillian has the potential to be a sound tackling safety, but he’s not quite there yet. While Woodson doesn’t make any running backs shake in their boots, he’ll put his nose in there and try to take anyone down. Don’t forget about his knack for forcing fumbles, too.
  • How about getting all the young CBs on the field with Woodson? This works if you make Woodson the dime back. He can roam around on passing downs, blitz every now and then, cover the tight end or snipe errant passes as the center-fielder.


Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers Key Matchups

Jordy Nelson scores against the Minnesota Vikings

The Packers are hoping to see this familiar scene on Sunday versus the Vikings

The Minnesota Vikings visit Lambeau Field and face the Green Bay Packers for just the first time this season.  The two teams will square off again in week 17 in Minnesota.  Both teams are coming off of a big loss and are fighting to keep postseason hopes alive.

The Packers were handed their worst loss in years at the hands of the New York football Giants while the Vikings were soundly defeated by the first-place Chicago Bears.  Both teams will likely be fired up and looking to get back on track.  At least they should be in a divisional game this late in the season.

Let’s take a look at the key matchups that will manifest themselves this Sunday.

Vikings Defensive Line vs. Packers Offensive Line

In the number one slot is the matchup most critical to Green Bay’s success this week.  As is likely to be the case for the rest of this season, the Packers have to find a way to protect Aaron Rodgers and start winning their matchups up front.

Minnesota features Pro Bowl defensive end Jared Allen, who will square up on Packers left tackle Marshall Newhouse.  Last season, Allen had three total sacks on Rodgers in the two games and that was when the Green Bay offensive line was playing better than they are now.  Allen is athletic and can get after the ball so Rodgers and the offense need to be mindful of where he is at all times.

My guess is that Green Bay is going to need to provide some extra help on the blind side with either a chip block by the back and release for check down or a straight up double team.

On the right side is Vikings defensive end Brian Robison.  You may recall an incident last season when, after a play, Robison gave TJ Lang a foot shove a la Ndamukong Suh (couldn’t resist the reference) right to the mid section.  Whatever Lang needs to do to find his motivation this week, he needs to do it in a big way.  True, he’s filling in for the injured Bryan Bulaga and is out of position.  But he still has to find a way to neutralize the rush.  Rodgers rolls out right more often than he does left and this matchup will be key.



The Cast and Characters of the 2012 Packers Secondary

Packers safety M.D. Jennings

Packers S M.D. Jennings is one of the new characters in the Packers secondary.

We’ve all sat through a terrible movie before. I’m not talking about a movie where it’s so bad, it’s good. I’m talking about a movie that is just plain bad, even painful.

Watching the Green Bay Packers allow almost 5,000 passing yards last season was like watching a bad movie, for a whopping 17 weeks.

If a director makes a terrible movies, he’ll probably try and make some serious changes so his next movie isn’t as bad. Maybe he’ll bring on actors with more experience or a production staff that has a several good movies under their resume.

Not if the director is Ted Thompson.

The Packers GM looked at his flop of a defense and said, “I’m going to get some guys that have even less experience and are more unproven than they players we had last season.”

Nowhere is that more evident than in the secondary.

Who are these guys?

The Packers first regular season game is only a few days away, but we have little idea what the secondary will look like. We know Tramon Williams will be at corner and Charles Woodson will be at safety in base and slot corner in sub packages. We also know Morgan Burnett will be at safety.

But that’s about all we know. We don’t know who the No. 2 corner will be in base and we have little clue what the sub packages will look like.

The defensive front features high-profile draft picks like Nick Perry and Jerel Worthy to try and save the day. The defensive backfield features a rookie safety from Maine, unproven cornerbacks and, gulp, Jarrett Bush.

In my opinion, who starts in the secondary doesn’t really matter. A lot of who we see on the field on Sunday will depend on matchups.

Nonetheless, it’s nice to know more about the cast and characters that are trying to rescue the Packers secondary. We know about the stars — Woodson, Williams and Burnett have been around for a while.

What about the supporting cast? How might they fit? What are their strengths and weaknesses?

Here’s a quick primer on the Packers who will be battling for time in the defensive backfield, both on Sunday and throughout the season.



Packers Draft Picks Compared to their Current Players

Jerel Worthy and the many position battles on the defensive line will be worth watching in training camp.

I’m reading Michael Holley’s War Room: The Legacy of Bill Belichick and the Art of Building the Perfect Team. It’s a great read so far and I regret not getting around to reading it until now (it was released in November). The book tells the story of how the Patriots dynasty came to be with excellent insight into modern-day NFL scouting, team building and football operations.

The Patriots evaluate college players by comparing them to a player that is already on their roster. This requires scouts to know the pro roster as well as they know the college kids they’re scouting, and ensures that scouts are looking for more than just how big, strong and fast a guy is. Factors like how a player fits into the Patriots’ overall scheme and specialized skill sets also are taken into consideration.

This strategy has proven effective for the Patriots over the years and also makes an excellent topic for a blog post. How do the Packers draftees compare to their counterparts currently on the roster? Of course, we don’t know as much about the draftees as an NFL scout might, but we can at least give this exercise a try.

Nick Perry vs. Erik Walden/Frank Zombo/Brad Jones
If a wooden fence post was compared to Walden/Zombo/Jones, most Packers fans would probably give the edge to the wooden fence post. In terms or raw talent, there’s not much comparison between Perry and the others. The only question is fit. Can Perry play outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme? Or is he a better fit as a 4-3 defensive end?

The answer to this question is who cares? I know I just spent the opening paragraphs of this post talking about scheme fit and all that other stuff, but given the Packers desperate need for a pass rusher, they weren’t allowed to be too picky with their top draft choice. There’s no rule against the coaching staff adjusting the current scheme to fit the roster if needed, and that’s what Dom Capers will do if necessary with Perry.

Winner: Perry.



Charles Woodson, Casey Hayward and the Trend of Versatile Cornerbacks in Today’s NFL

Casey Hayward

Versatility could be Casey Hayward's greatest strength.

Remember when the NFL was about taking your best 11 guys and putting them against the other team’s best 11 guys? Those days are over.

Well, kind of. You still want your best 11 against their best 11, but those 11 change throughout the game much more often than they used to.

Today’s NFL is all about matchups and sub packages. Of course, certain players are so good that they will never leave the field, but just because a guy doesn’t play all three downs doesn’t mean he’s an inferior player. It means his skills might be a better fit in specialized situations, perhaps as a pass rusher on obvious passing downs, a slot corner on third down or a run stuffer in short-yardage.

Sub packages also depend on a coordinator’s scheme and gameplan. On defense, most coordinators these days want to try and create as much confusion for the offense as possible. Causing chaos is always good, too. The coordinator is likely asking himself how he can maximize the skills of each of his players to achieve the general goal of creating confusion and causing chaos, and he knows that this goal is easier to achieve with players that have diversified skill sets in line with the coordinator’s overall defensive vision.

I think we’re getting used to this concept on the front seven. We understand that tackles like Casey Hampton play on running downs and absorb as many blockers as possible so teammates can make plays. We also know that guys like Aldon Smith specialize in rushing the quarterback and are extremely valuable on third downs and obvious passing situations.

I think more teams are trying to find that sort of versatility with their cornerbacks and I think the Packers hope they found that versatility with Casey Hayward.

Some corners will always line up on the outside. That will never change. But with receivers getting bigger and bigger and tight ends morphing into super freaks, defenses need corners that are sort of hybrid corners/safeties, players who are just as comfortable streaking down the field with a slot receiver as they are mixing it up with a TE or blitzing the quarterback. They need corners that are comfortable mucking it up in the middle of the field, but can also go outside if needed.



2012 Packers Position Group Analysis: Defensive Backs

Green Bay Packers defensive backs, Charles Woodson, Nick Collins, Charlie Peprah

Defensive Backs Charles Woodson, Nick Collins, Charlie Peprah

Packers Defensive Backs: We’re back with the third of this series where we examine each Packers position group as it currently exists. Today we finish the defensive side of the ball by examining the Packers’ secondary. As before, this article will examine three main points from the Packers’ perspective: where we are, where we want to go and what we need to do to get there.

Previous installments can be found here:

Packers Defensive Line:

Packers Linebackers:


Where are we now:

Here are the current suspects:

Charles Woodson (1st round)
Tramon Williams (undrafted)
Sam Shields (undrafted)
Jarrett Bush (undrafted)
Davon House (4th  round)
Brandian Ross (undrafted)

Nick Collins (2nd round)
Morgan Burnett (3rd round)
Charlie Peprah (5th round)
M.D. Jennings (undrafted)
Anthony Levine (undrafted)

While this position group has six undrafted players, only three are regulars and overall there is better representation near the top of the draft than in the defensive line and linebacker groups. That’s especially true if you count Pat Lee, a second round choice the Packers recently allowed to leave via free agency.

The Packers’ secondary had a tough time in 2011. As a group, they gave up 71 plays of 20 yards or more, and a lot of those were significantly more than 20 yards. The Giants alone had four plays over 40 yards in two games against the Packers. Yes, it was not pleasant.

So let’s start with Charles Woodson: In 2011, Woodson was a bit of a paradox. On one hand, he was what we have come to expect from Charles Woodson; the guy who makes the big play. Woodson had 3 sacks, 7 interceptions and a total of nine turnover plays on the year. On the other hand, his tackling, which used to be a strength, almost became a liability.  Woodson finally started showing signs of age, as he lost some of that quickness he previously counted on to avoid blockers and track down ball carriers in open space. Woodson was charged with 18 missed tackles on the season and nine penalties (more than twice as many penalties as any other Packer player). He also gave up five touchdowns, leading the team in that category as well.



Packing the Stats: Regression of The Secondary

The Packers may be perfect in the win-loss column, but it would be foolish to assume that everything with the Packers is going perfectly.  The last 3 years the Packers have fielded competitive teams each with its own Achilles’ heel; in 2009 it was the offensive line, in 2010 it was the running game and this year it’s definitely the secondary.

While everyone one has heard that the Packers are near the bottom of the barrel in terms of passing defense, is it because they’ve played against elite passing quarterbacks? Is it because they’ve played against pass-first teams?  Or is it because the secondary simply isn’t as good as it was when they won the Super Bowl?

I decided to take a look at passing averages of teams that Packers have played.

The first section are the numbers posted by opponents while playing the Packers.

The Second section are the passing averages of Packers opponents not including the Packers game (i.e. how these teams did against other teams on their schedule).

The final section is the difference between the two and the last bit is the average of these differences.

For the columns, PASS is the total passing yards, COMP is completions, ATT is attempts, TD is passing touchdowns, INT is interceptions, COMP% is completion percentage and PY/A is passing yards per attempt.


NO 419.00 32.00 49.00 3.00 0.00 65.3% 8.55
CAR 432.00 28.00 46.00 1.00 3.00 60.9% 9.39
CHI 302.00 21.00 37.00 2.00 2.00 56.8% 8.16
DEN 273.00 22.00 32.00 3.00 3.00 68.8% 8.53
ATL 167.00 18.00 32.00 1.00 2.00 56.3% 5.22
STL 328.00 29.00 45.00 0.00 1.00 64.4% 7.29
MIN 219.00 13.00 32.00 2.00 2.00 40.6% 6.84
NO 343.00 30.00 41.67 2.50 1.33 72.0% 8.23
CAR 278.50 20.67 34.33 1.17 1.00 60.2% 8.11
CHI 233.33 19.33 32.50 1.17 0.67 59.5% 7.18
DEN 189.20 17.20 32.00 1.60 0.80 53.8% 5.91
ATL 252.67 22.67 36.83 1.33 1.00 61.5% 6.86
STL 213.20 19.20 37.80 0.60 0.40 50.8% 5.64
MIN 187.50 17.17 29.00 0.67 0.33 59.2% 6.47
NO 76.00 2.00 7.33 0.50 1.33 6.7% 0.32