Exploring the Charles Woodson effect

Charles Woodson

WoodsonOne interesting dynamic to look for in Super Bowl XLV will involve two of the most versatile defenders to play in the NFL the last ten seasons. While many attest to the effect of Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu, we look to measure the "Charles Woodson Effect" and the impact he could have on Sunday's game.

As the 2009 NFL Defensive Player of the Year -- a torch passed to Polamalu on Monday -- Woodson is a major player for the Packers defense. ESPN's Next-Level tracking team analyzed all 172 defensive snaps against the Green Bay Packers this postseason to anticipate what effect Woodson could have against the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV.

Woodson lined up in zone or single-man pass coverage on 138 snaps, or 80.2 percent of the time. The other 19.8 percent of time (34 snaps), he was lined up in support of pressure against the quarterback or run and did so within the confines of the "box" on 28 of those. The 19.8 percent is high considering during the regular season, the Packers sent a member of the secondary for pass pressure on 21.3 percent of all dropbacks, which was 7th in the NFL.

Breaking down the 138 snaps in which he was in pass coverage, he was the defender responsible for eight targets and the closest defender in zone coverage on four more. So opposing quarterbacks threw in his vicinity less than 10 percent of the time (8.7 percent) he was lined up in pass coverage.

In terms of disruption, Woodson was able to penetrate the offensive backfield on 22.7 percent of all plays, 39 times in total. On 11 such plays, Woodson lined-up across from a skill player in coverage, disguised before the snap. His presence in the backfield helped run blitzes as well as pass pressures. Green Bay did not allow a touchdown on the 17 running plays where he disrupted the backfield. His pressures helped open opportunities for other teammates as well, such as Clay Matthews, who recorded the biggest tackle for loss on any non-sack play by the Packers this postseason (a tackle of Chester Taylor for a 3-yard loss in the NFC Championship).

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Opposing quarterbacks were 11-for-19 with one interception and sacked three times with a 66.1 passer rating when the Packers sent Woodson for pass pressure from the defensive backfield. The 66.1 passer rating is better than the NFL regular-season average rating of 80.4 when using one or more defensive backs on pass pressure, but worse than the Packers regular season rating of 54.9 (2nd in NFL).

Additionally, the Packers are averaging a sack per game (three sacks in three playoff games) when using secondary pressure. Only the Seattle Seahawks averaged a sack per game with secondary pressure during the 16-game season.

In what could be a game decided by defense, Woodson and Polamalu will each play the role of a queen on the chess board in Dallas, moving anywhere and everywhere in hopes of being the key to winning Super Bowl XLV.