If either defense needs a game-changing turnover on Sunday, chances are San Diego’s Eric Weddle or Green Bay’s Charles Woodson will deliver it.
The two defensive backs currently sit atop the league with five interceptions apiece. They each recorded two interceptions in their team’s last game, while Woodson is the only player in the league with a pair of two-pick games this season.
More important has been the impact of their takeaways.
For Weddle, a safety, three of his interceptions have come late in the fourth quarter of games. Two of those sealed close wins in the final three minutes. The other stopped a potential game-winning drive last Monday by Kansas City and forced overtime.
His first interception last week also led to a San Diego field goal. In addition, he intercepted a pass in the end zone to take away a potential score from the New York Jets, and the Chargers responded with a touchdown drive of their own.
“He has a knack to be in the right place,” Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. “That’s a tribute to his anticipation, his identification and the ability to make plays.”
That sounds a lot like a description of Woodson, whose interceptions this season have been equally significant.
Four of Woodson’s five picks have led to scores, including a touchdown he scored himself on a 30-yard return against Denver in Week 4.
In Green Bay’s last game at Minnesota, Woodson recorded interceptions on back-to-back possessions in the third quarter, and both led to field goals. The Packers won by six points.
“That’s what he does,” cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt Jr. said. “He’s the best football player I’ve been around, on a number of levels – toughness, smarts, God-given ability. He has it all.”
The question is how much will, or can, the offenses stay away on Sunday from the trouble Weddle and Woodson can cause.
Weddle is much newer on the scene than Woodson, of course.
In his fourth year as a starter, Weddle may be experiencing his breakout season. He’s never posted more than two interceptions in a season before, though he did return one for a score each of the last two years.
As a safety, he has the opportunity to choose his spots to attack. The Packers are aware of that, but they aren’t going to let him dictate their scheme.
“He’s their quarterback back there, and he gets all those guys set up,” receiver James Jones said. “But he’s not a guy we’re saying we’re going to throw away from or something like that. We’re going to run our offense, and hopefully we make the plays and he doesn’t.”
Teams have been hoping for the same against Woodson since he came to the Packers in 2006, but he has recorded 35 of his 52 career interceptions in Green Bay. Surrounded by lesser defenders at times in Oakland earlier in his career, Woodson had just 17 interceptions in eight years as opposing quarterbacks were able to avoid him.
A cornerback used in a variety of roles in Dom Capers’ defense, Woodson has been playing hurt in 2011, as he often does. Following the bye, he was not on the injury report this week for the first time since Week 2, so he could be poised for a big second half.
“I think he’s going to play high-level football,” said Whitt, who emphasized that Woodson’s tackling and ability to cause fumbles – he knocked the ball loose nine times over the 2009-10 seasons – are the most impressive parts of his game.
“That’s what we expect of him, and that’s being one of the best defensive players in the league. That’s what I hope we get.”
The Packers haven’t been shy about saying it – their defense has been saved this year by the 13 interceptions it has recorded, a total that is tied for second in the league. In the midst of a sub-par season, San Diego’s Philip Rivers leads all quarterbacks in the NFL with 11 interceptions this year.
That could be the recipe for getting the Green Bay defense, which overall is as healthy as it’s been since the opener, back on track. Chances are Woodson will be in the thick of it.
“When a play is needed, we know he’s going to be able to make it,” Whitt said. “We talk on the sideline, ‘Let’s not take a chance on one, but if it’s there, let’s get it.’
“He does it time and time again. Interceptions, caused fumbles, big tackles, sacks. He’s going to find a way in a crucial situation to make a play.” Additional coverage - Nov. 4