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What Tramon Williams and Sam Shields Mean for Charles Woodson

I analyze Charles Woodson's play in the Panther game and how the absence of Tramon Williams impacted him.

Last Sunday afternoon, we saw just how important Tramon Williams and Sam Shields are to the Packers' defense, and what their play means to the way Charles Woodson is able to line up.

It's no secret that the Packers rely on a nickel defense (two linemen, four linebackers, five defensive backs) more than any other team. With Williams and Shields locking down opposing receivers on the outside, Woodson is free to play the slot in a sort of cornerback-safety hybrid role. He can blitz, play the run or cover the slot receiver with equal ease. (Incidentally, this makes Sam Shields a de facto starting corner. Disregard his "nickel back" tag.) But when Williams is out, as he was against the Carolina Panthers, Woodson is forced to revert to his old spot outside the numbers and Jarrett Bush takes the nickel.

Five years ago, Woodson would have no problem doing this. He was the 2009 Defensive Player of the Year because he was able to play all over the field. But at 34, Woodson's play has declined to the point where he's no longer an effective cover corner playing on the outside.

Yes, he had two interceptions. Yes, he recovered a fumble. But Woodson was victimized by Steve Smith (six catches, 156 yards), including on a 62-yard bomb from Cam Newton that facilitated a late Panthers touchdown. The former DPOY was beaten on Smith's catch-and-run that ended in a fumble, and was lost in space before recovering to make his first interception. He's still capable of making big plays, and make no mistake, those two interceptions were huge for Green Bay. But you just can't let the other guy's No. 1 wideout gain 156 yards.

Ultimately, when Williams returns, Woodson will move back inside and the issue will be moot. But if Williams or Shields goes down again during the season, coordinator Dom Capers will have to think seriously about whether it's wise to have Woodson shadow the opposition's best receiver all game long. The result could be another spectacular day from a player like Smith, and maybe a Packers loss.

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Mark Seghers September 23, 2011 at 12:58 PM
Woodson did get burned by a surprising young QB and arguably one of the craftiest WRs in the business... but do not discount so much his two INTs. He was also able to bait the rookie and get the job done. Also take into account that he played out of what his normal position has become. It's possible that in a game or two he could return to shut-down status. I have nothing but utmost respect for Woodson, and I dont think he is as old as his years might suggest.
Andy Tisdel October 05, 2011 at 05:12 AM
Mark, thanks for the comment. I apologize for my tardiness in getting back to you; I don't check the comment sections as often as I should. It looked to me like Woodson was turned around and recovered just in time on his first pick. The second was unquestionably great coverage and ball skills combined with an ill-advised throw. I definitely think that playing outside, for whatever reason, isn't what Woodson does best anymore. (I seem to recall that even in his DPOY season in 2009, he spent a great deal of time playing in the slot.)
Mark Seghers October 05, 2011 at 01:59 PM
Packers' pass coverage not what it was. The BIG question is... what is wrong with Tramon?
Andy Tisdel October 05, 2011 at 02:27 PM
The Journal Sentinel was talking about how Williams' shoulder is still tender, so they've been playing him mostly in off coverage instead of press coverage, where he's not quite as good. That'd be my best guess.

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