For the Green Bay Packers, losing safety Charles Woodson in the last 2:44 of the 30-20 victory over the St. Louis Rams could be compared to the Baltimore Ravens losing linebacker Ray Lewis.
Woodson, like Lewis, serves as a leader for his defense and team. He suffered a broken collarbone after diving for a Sam Bradford pass that was intended for Brandon Gibson. He is expected to be out up to six weeks, a devastating blow to a team with championship aspirations — just as Lewis’ torn triceps muscle last week sidelined him for the rest of the regular season.
Lewis and Woodson are two players whose impact is more than the plays they make on defense. They are leaders, inspirations — and irreplaceable.
“There’ll have to be some other guys to pick up the leadership role,” Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “Obviously, Charles is a leader. He’s been a very productive guy on the field and that’s the way you develop into a leader. I think there’s an awful lot of respect for him. Now, we’ve got to have some other guys step up and produce.”
Since joining Green Bay s in 2006, Woodson has been an integral part of their defense and a leader for the team, starting in 100 of 103 games. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Woodson’s nine interceptions returned for touchdowns are three more than any other defensive back in the league during his time with the Packers.
The 36-year-old Woodson was fourth on the team with a 95.89 percent playing-time rate this season. Woodson is exceeded by safety Morgan Burnett (100 percent), cornerback Tramon Williams (99.18) and linebacker Clay Matthews (97.33 percent) who all serve with Woodson on the defensive side of the ball.
Woodson moved to safety in Capers’ defense, but would occasionally play slot cornerback in the nickel and dime packages. Capers indicated the he will replace Woodson in the Packers’ base defense with M.D. Jennings or rookie Jerron McMillian. Rookie Casey Hayward or Davon House is expected to replace Woodson as a nickel cornerback in sub packages.
“You’ve got to be able to play in our base defense; that’s the foundation of the defense,” Jennings said. “That’s nothing that me or Jerron hasn’t done before.”
Packers free safety Morgan Burnett will also have to take on more responsibility after the injury to Woodson.
“What ends up happening is if you lose one of your leaders, you have to have other guys step up and become leaders,” Woodson said. “We’ll be looking for people to step up in that role, just like we do on the field.”
While the Packers search for the next leader in Woodson’s absence, he will sit out for the next six weeks and make a possible return to the field against the Minnesota Vikings in week 13.
“He’s a guy that I wouldn’t put anything past in term of being able to come back,” Capers said.