Originally written on NESN.com  |  Last updated 10/22/12
The Green Bay Packers defense relies heavily on Charles Woodson's leadership in slowing down opposing offenses each week. The Packers will now have to look elsewhere for their guidance, though, at least for a few weeks. Woodson left Sunday's win against the Rams with what turns out to be a broken collarbone, according to Jay Glazer of the NFL Network. He's expected to miss between four and six weeks with the injury.  The news is devastating for a Green Bay team already saddled with injuries to defensive playmakers like B.J. Raji (ankle) and Nick Perry (knee). But, while those players are important, Woodson's absence will be far more noticeable -- even if not physically -- and damaging. Woodson is the eldest statesman and the captain of the Packers defense. His intelligence, experience and instincts set him apart from nearly any other defensive back in the NFL, barring maybe Champ Bailey and Darrelle Revis. Woodson is an exceptional athlete and one of the primary reasons for the Packers resurgent secondary this season. Following a 2011 that saw the Packers reach new historic lows in pass defense, Woodson has helped steady a much-improved secondary this season. Last season, Green Bay ranked dead last in passing defense, allowing opposing offenses to complete better than 61 percent of passes and more than 300 passing yards per game. This year, they rank 17th in the NFL defending the pass and are allowing just 232 yards through the air per game. A vast improvement for Green Bay, even if only middling compared to the rest of the league. The good news is that Woodson will likely only miss a little more than a month, and fortunately for Green Bay their bye week falls within that window. So, if that one-month timeline holds up, Woodson will only miss games against the Jaguars, Cardinals and NFC North rival Lions. But he could be back in time for a divisional playoff rematch with the Giants on Nov. 25, a game the Packers undoubtedly have marked on their calendars. That's all speculation, though. Woodson is 36 years old and might take a little longer to heal than he used to, which could mean a return may take even longer than the high line of six weeks. While Woodson's 38 tackles, 1 1/2 sacks and lone interception this season haven't exactly been anything to gawk at, his presence is important to the Packers. So, whether it's four, six or even eight weeks before Woodson returns, the Packers need someone to step up in the meantime. Clay Matthews is clearly an emotional leader for this team, and his 9 1/2 sacks through seven games are proof that he's returned to the form that saw him win Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2010. He's more than capable of undertaking the leadership responsibilities. But even beyond Matthews, someone in the secondary will be leaned on to fill Woodson's role as a ball hawk and secondary captain in his stead. Tramon Williams has been the Packers best cover corner this season and should continue to find success on the outside. Rookie Casey Hayward has been a pleasant surprise as well, leading the Packers and the NFL with four interceptions on the season. But both guys are finding success in their current roles and shouldn't be burdened with trying to be Woodson. Instead, the pressure may fall to veteran corners Sam Shields, when he returns from injury, and even the inconsistent Jerod Bush. Both players have the talent and understanding of the system to drop back into the safety position, much like Devin McCourty's done in New England. There will be plenty of candidates to help fill the void in Woodson's absence, but more than likely it will be a collective effort from a number of parties to help keep this secondary from falling into the gutter for the second straight season. The last time Woodson broke his collarbone, during Super Bowl XLV, the Packers ended up hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. The same results can't be expected this time around, not unless someone steps up to fill the hefty void in the meantime. Photo via Facebook/Charles Woodson Have a question for Luke Hughes? Send it to him via Twitter at @LukeFHughes or send it here.
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