When the 14-year veteran defensive back spoke up last week about the Green Bay Packers' defense being a "liability" and the need to use linebacker Clay Matthews more creatively, his words were not taken lightly. Not even by one of the best defensive coordinators in NFL history.
"We had a brief conversation and talked about a few things," said Woodson of his meeting with Dom Capers. "I think tonight, we got a little bit more of what we like as a defense with the guys that we have and getting after it. If you looked out there tonight, guys had fun, and it's all determined on how that game is called. When Dom calls it that way, guys pin their ears back and we go play football."
The defense that held the Vikings to 266 yards in a 45-7 victory Monday night at Lambeau Field was a far cry from the one that gave up 460 yards and 38 points against the Chargers last week in a performance marred by communication errors on the back end.
The Packers' defense knew it was better than that, or other subpar performances this season. Against the Vikings, it finally put together a worthy performance.
"Tonight felt good," said Woodson. "It was a game I felt like, as a defense, we owed it to ourselves to play a game like that. We owed it to our fans, our team, especially on offense, who's been playing out of (its) mind this year. We needed a game like that, and it feels good, but it's still one game."
While putting away a 2-7 team with a rookie quarterback is nothing to brag about, the way the Packers did it was most impressive. The defense played fast, made several big hits, got its hands on multiple balls and held the Vikings' big offensive weapons down.
Quarterback Christian Ponder – who had some success in his debut against the Packers at the Metrodome on Oct. 23 – completed just 16-of-34 passes for 190 yards, the second-lowest output the Packers have allowed this season.
Leading the charge was Woodson who totaled a team-leading nine tackles (one for a loss) and three passes defended – two of those being near interceptions. The first was ruled an interception, only to be overturned by a replay challenge, and the second could have gone for a record-tying 12th career return for a touchdown had he not dropped it.
But Woodson was most dynamic as a pass rusher, where Capers used him at least nine times (by Packer Report count) to go after Ponder. Four times he came off the left side, two times he came off the right and three times he was used in the middle, a spot he said was new to him this season.
One of those times Woodson held up the middle, Matthews got to the quarterback for his second sack of the game. Asked whether that was some of the creativity Woodson wanted to see from the defense, he replied: "Absolutely. When you see Clay one-on-one, you feel good about it. On that particular play, if you watch the replay, I seen it, if he's one-on-one, he'll beat a guy pretty quickly. And when you can cause some confusion on the offense like that, where your best pass rusher has a chance to get a one-on-one situation, then you've done what you wanted to do. That's exactly what I was talking about."
Matthews had his first multi-sack game of the season, also ripping down Ponder in the first quarter on a play in which Vikings fullback Ryan D'Imperio and Peterson were left to try to block the All-Pro linebacker. Matthews finished with five tackles (one for a loss), two quarterback hits and a forced fumble on the aforementioned sack.
"Tonight was no different than any other night, it's just that fact that I was able to get home," said Matthews, whose sack total (five) is down from last season. "Just putting pressure on the quarterback every week, and if he holds on to the ball while I hit him, then so be it. If he doesn't, he's still going to take a shot. But it's good. Obviously, any time you get a sack it's momentum changing."
Unlike Woodson, Matthews found himself in a similar role from his outside left linebacker spot for much of the game. He only lined up to the right side once and in the middle twice. But the results of his aggressive play not only netted different results for him, but also for the team.
The Packers finished with three sacks and six hits on Ponder. Besides Woodson and inside linebacker blitzes, Capers brought safety Morgan Burnett three times as a rusher, cornerback Tramon Williams (on Desmond Bishop's sack) and backup defensive back Jarrett Bush.
"Tonight, we tried to bring it from everywhere," said Woodson. "We tried to keep Ponder in the pocket with a lot of the things we called."
Bishop was also active, with eight tackles and three quarterback hits, including a big one on Ponder off a flea-flicker attempt that was intercepted by Williams.
This was the way a Capers' defense should perform. Woodson just wanted to see it, not talk about it.
"We have aggressive guys, guys that like to play that style of football," said Woodson. "When (Capers) calls it that way, you see the fun that guys have out there on the field. We had a great deal of fun tonight, and when we're having fun, we're winning.
"That's the great thing about Dom. You can talk to him. You can tell him what's on your mind. Tell him what you think if you have thoughts about the game you played or the upcoming game, he listens. That's the great thing about being around Dom, being around the assistant coaches because you relay a lot of things to those guys to where they relay it to Dom at times. And when you have a system like that, that's not just stuck on doing one thing, you can go places."