Now that the Redskins have delighted us with another high-profile coaching hire and Iowa put to bed questions about the Big Ten with a dominant win over Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl last night, it’s time to talk NFL playoffs.
And I want to start with one player who’s going to be monumental when it comes to installing the game plan at practice today — the Packers’ Charles Woodson.
If there’s one player I want to watch this wild card weekend, it’s Woodson. Why? Easy, because the Packers — after beating ‘Zona handily in a game that equated to a preseason contest on Sunday — will face some tough matchups from a scheme perspective with Arizona coming to the stadium with a complete offensive game plan this week.
And Woodson should be the catalyst for Dom Capers’ defense -- how they line him up, the matchup he’s going to draw on first and second downs and, more important, how he will be used on third downs. Does Capers move him inside on third downs — especially if Anquan Boldin is active — or does he keep him out on the island, matched up with Larry Fitzgerald?
However, that’s the luxury of having Woodson. He’s a hybrid of sorts when it comes to secondary play in the postseason. There are no doubts, from my perspective, that Capers can even move Woodson into the box if he has to. Plenty of options with a player of his caliber — one who’s playing at a higher level than any defender in the league right now.
But the key to the Green Bay defense in using Woodson — within Capers’ system — is to move him around. Install a game plan that plays to his strengths and the strengths of the defense. What I mean is that Woodson becomes a wild card for Ken Whisenhunt’s offense in Arizona. Just as we see when offenses align players out of formation, move wide receivers inside, or align the TE as the “X” receiver (as we see in Green Bay with TE Jermichal Finley), it causes matchup problems. Play Woodson at comer outside the numbers vs. the Cardinals’ pro sets. When they bring in their Zebra personnel (3 WR, 1 TE, 1 RB), move Woodson inside on the slot when the Packers use their sub packages. And in doing that, incorporate him into the pressure schemes of Capers. Send the Nickel man pressure and the Nickel zone pressure with Woodson blitzing off the edge — where he can use his speed and athleticism to beat offensive tackles and running backs who turn to him in scan protection.
Don’t use him solely on a player like Fitzgerald. He’s too valuable. Capers can play a form of man-under with Fitzgerald with a corner playing a trail technique with a half-field safety over the top. You can take away the deep ball by doing that and allow Woodson to have a bigger impact in other areas of the field. Just as offenses use a player to exploit a defense, use Woodson to exploit the Cardinals’ offense.
Now, for ‘Zona. Boldin is the wild card. And if he’s healthy enough to go, we’ll see a matchup that’s built for the late afternoon Sunday game -- two of the most physical players at their positions going against each other. This is when you assign Woodson to Boldin on third downs and in the red zone. You need a physical defensive back to beat Boldin, and I hope the officiating crew assigned to the game lets us watch this matchup if possible. Let them fight, let them push and let them play football.
Make no mistake about it, Green Bay is a very dangerous team this postseason because of Capers’ defense. I’ve been a big supporter of QB Aaron Rodgers all season, but you win in January with a ball-hawking defense that uses its key players in ways that create advantages for the defense. Woodson has to be that guy, and Capers needs to exploit Whisenhunt and Kurt Warner with him.
Various alignments and various responsibilities that force the Cardinals to rework their own game plan on the fly.
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