Green Bay Packers defensive leader Charles Woodson broke his collarbone in Sunday’s victory over the St. Louis Rams. How the Packers handle the next six weeks without Woodson will decide their season. In a scene eerily reminiscent of Super Bowl XLV, Woodson, attempting to break up a pass, hit the ground hard and immediately grabbed his shoulder.
Woodson has been a consistent leader on a defense that has struggled to contain elite passing offenses. Last year, the Packers defense finished dead last in the NFL in yards allowed and the team took serious steps through the draft and free agency to shore up the defense. While the defense has looked promising at times this year, they are still surrendering 342 yards per game, including 232 passing yards per game.
While I don’t like to put too much weight on the non-football aspect of players, there’s absolutely no denying that Woodson is and has been the clear leader of the defense for the past several years. This year’s unit features eight rookies, six of whom have seen substantial playing time. Given their inexperience, Woodson’s presence has been an important factor both on the field and in the locker room. No matter how many times the team chants “next man up,” this is a big blow to the Packers that can’t be sugar-coated.
When the Packers take on the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday, they will be down four defensive starters: Woodson, B.J. Raji, Sam Shields, and Nick Perry. Additionally, Desmond Bishop and D.J. Smith have already been put on season-ending injury reserve.
During their 2010 Super Bowl run, the Packers seemed to thrive on defying the odds as starter after starter was lost to injury. Like 2010 and last year’s 15-1 team, the offense will have to do much of the heavy lifting in order to take some of the pressure off the defense. Playing with big leads allows the Packer defense to play the aggressive but risky style they have carved out for themselves.
With the offense clicking the last two weeks and with rookies like Casey Hayward stepping up big, not all is lost. The Packers also benefit from their schedule: after Jacksonville, they play the Arizona Cardinals and then will enjoy a bye week. The next two weeks will be a great opportunity for the inexperienced defense to solidify themselves against struggling offenses.
As the list of injuries continues to grow like it did in the 2010 season, I can only hope that the final result will be the same.