Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
The Green Bay Packers defense looked significantly better against the Vikings this week as compared to last week. The return of Charles Woodson is a major factor for this improvement....but is he the only reason?
As I walked back to my car from the game tonight a question echoed over and over again in my mind….who was missed more, Charles Woodson or Christian Ponder? It’s hard to put your finger on the right answer considering the turn around the defense had over the past six days. Last week the Vikings scored 37 points on the Packers (that still gives me an upset stomach allowing that many points to that offense). This week the defense held the Vikings to 10 points, and the lone touchdown happened in garbage time due to a breakdown in coverage. It was a dramatically different performance by a squad that took its fair share of criticism over the past week.
So that comes back to the question…is this turn around Woodson’s presence or was it Ponder’s absence?
Woodson’s presence is hard to ignore. He ended the day tied for second on the team in total tackles (6) and solo tackles (4) as well as having a tackle for a loss. He also nearly added a sack on top of all of that. More than just the stats though, it seemed like Woodson was able to consistently break through the line of scrimmage and cause problems all night long. Even when he wasn’t able to make a play in the backfield he was able to show why the Packers defense is different when he is out there. The best play that shows this is one that occurred early in the game. Adrian Peterson had broken past the first wave of defenders and looked to turn a solid run into long touchdown run, but Woodson came in and stopped him cold. It was this sort of open field tackling that the Packers were missing the previous two games….allowing AP to rack up 400 yards of rushing. With Woodson available Peterson did even to gain 100 this time out.
As great as it was to see Woodson back, he may not be the real reason the Packers’ defense was so successful this time out. Coming into the game I thought that Joe Webb would be a nightmare for the Packers’ defense. Visions of a read option and Webb making big run after big run flashed before my eyes. The first drive seemed to confirm this, and I was just thankful that the Vikings were held to a field goal. A funny thing happened though as the game wore on…the Viking offense just could not function. The Packers stayed disciplined in their gaps and did not miss tackles and the Packers offense was able to put up points. This forced the Vikings to stray from that read option and call more pass plays….which Webb was not able to do. I must confess I did not think that Ponder was a viable long term option for the Vikings, but seeing the offense without him has caused me to reconsider that point. A team does not go from scoring nearly forty points one week and then struggling to put up ten the next without some serious losses in personnel. I guess losing Ponder is one of them.
So which was the bigger factor for the Packers this week, Ponder’s unavailability or Woodson’s return? It’s a tough choice, but I would have to lean towards the return of Woodson. His ability to disrupt the Vikings offense and stop the big play was something the Packers missed greatly last week. Most importantly though he helped keep Peterson in check in a way the Packers have simply been unable to do previously this season.
It’s good to see Woodson back on the field. The Packers are going to need him if they are going to make a deep push in the playoffs. If there was any doubt of that before tonight just watching what the defense was able to do in stopping the Vikings shows how big an impact Woodson can have and how badly the Packers need him to continue their playoff push.