Woodson's Return Could Provide Packers with Big Boost Against Vikings

Andrew Dannehy@@ADannChiBearsCorrespondent IJanuary 4, 2013

CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 18:   Charles Woodson #21 of the Green Bay Packers celebrates after recovering a fumble against the Carolina Panthers during their game at Bank of America Stadium on September 18, 2011 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Charles Woodson may not be the player he once was, but his return to the Packers' defense could be a considerable boost for them in their playoff game against the Vikings on Saturday.

Woodson has missed the past nine games, but the Packers didn't seem to miss him. They give up 20.1 points per game without him and 22 per game with him, but their matchup against the Vikings plays to his strengths.

According to Pro Football Focus, opponents had a 73.7 rating while throwing toward Woodson and he had a hard time keeping his hands off of receivers, committing five penalties. In his last four games, quarterbacks Drew Brees, Andrew Luck, Matt Schaub and Sam Bradford had an average rating of 104.5 throwing in his direction.

M.D. Jennings saw the most increased playing time with Woodson out and was an upgrade in their pass defense, as opponents had a 67.3 rating throwing his way. However, it isn't coverage skills that they will need in their first-round matchup against Adrian Peterson and the Vikings.

Peterson has destroyed the Packers, running for 210 yards in their first matchup and 199 last Sunday. While the Green Bay defensive line has held its own, their linebackers and secondary players have struggled to bring the MVP candidate down. Woodson should be a big help.

According to PFF, Woodson was Green Bay's best run defender in the secondary and sixth best on the team. In seven games, Woodson had 33 tackles and 14 stops, which are defined by PFF as a play that constitutes an offensive failure. Jennings, however, had 37 tackles and made just six stops all season.

Woodson's strengths are ideal for their matchup against the Vikings and quarterback Christian Ponder, who struggles to throw the ball down the field, making it easier to stack the box. Woodson will have the opportunity to play in the box, essentially serve as a fourth linebacker, while the other defensive backs focus on covering a mediocre receiving core. If they're able to stop the run, Ponder has been known to give defensive backs a chance to make plays on the ball, another area Woodson excels.

While the Vikings are the perfect matchup for Woodson's return, they'll have a problem finding a spot for him against good passing teams. According to PFF, Woodson was the sixth best defensive back on the team and his pass coverage grade ranked eighth.

He's listed as a safety, but moved to the slot corner position in their nickel and dime defenses. If they continue to play him in that role, it would mean taking a better player off the field. 

With Tramon Williams and Sam Shields on the outside, Casey Hayward excelled as the slot corner, as opposing quarterbacks had a rating of just 31.1 throwing in his direction. Hayward intercepted six passes and did not commit a penalty all season. Unlike Jennings, Hayward has been good against the run as well, ranking behind only Woodson in that area. 

Moving Woodson back to an outside cornerback position is an option but, given his struggles in coverage, it doesn't seem to be a good one.

For at least one week, Woodson's return should provide the Packers with a big boost, but it will be interesting to see how they play him should they defeat the Vikings.