I’m getting pretty hopeful that the Broncos will sign Charles Woodson, based on the fact that he visited Dove Valley Wednesday, and also on the smoke signals that Mike Klis is reading. I’ve advocated a few times for Woodson to be signed, and I’ve banged the table for a matchup safety.
I think that of all the free agents presently available on the street, Woodson is the best possible fit for this Broncos team. There’s some injury risk there, but I would say that Woodson's having missed seven games in 2012 was unusual for his career, and that you’d be foolish to make a sweeping assumption that it’s the new normal for him because he hit some magic “old man” cutoff point.
All things considered, Woodson has been pretty durable throughout his career, and he has that record despite playing his position in a very unique and physical way. I would emphatically call Woodson a risk worth taking on the injury front.
Today, briefly, I want to talk about why Woodson is such a fantastic fit for this team. If we review the current Broncos roster, we see the following group of defensive backs:
|1||Champ Bailey||Rahim Moore|
|2||Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie||Mike Adams|
|3||Chris Harris||David Bruton|
|4||Tony Carter||Quinton Carter|
|5||Omar Bolden||Duke Ihenacho|
There’s a lot there at corner, and not much at safety, right? There’s been a lot of talk about how the Broncos are going to be in nickel a lot in 2013, since they’ll presumably be playing with the lead on a frequent basis. An important thing to realize, though, is that nickel isn’t always “nickel.”
Sometimes, nickel (which generically means a sub package featuring five defensive backs) can feature three corners and two safeties. That’s the traditional nickel package. With the proliferation over the past few years of dangerous tight ends, though, the better-performing nickel defenses often contain three safeties and two corners. The best recent example of this is the 2011 New York Giants, who won a Super Bowl while frequently using safeties Kenny Phillips, Antrel Rolle, and Deon Grant as three-fifths of their nickel group.
You want to get really crazy with it? How about four corners and one safety? You could just play man-free, and dare offenses to beat your corners. If I had the group that the Broncos have, I’d seriously consider that. Of course, that’s kind of tough to do against 12 personnel teams that have two good TEs.
The Broncos lost to the Ravens in a fluky, weird playoff game, but I expect them to beat the Super Bowl champions handily on opening night. They’re just a better all-around football team. What Denver really needs to be focused on is beating the Patriots; that was the case last season, and not much has changed.
I’ve said this before, and now I’ll say it again. The Broncos play defense from the outside-in, and the Patriots play offense from the inside-out. The matchup has been a struggle for Denver’s defense over the last couple years, because their best defenders have often been in the wrong places to combat the Patriots’ best offensive players.
Woodson can be trusted in man-to-man defense on Rob Gronkowski as much as any defensive back in the NFL can, and that makes me want to slot him into Denver’s defense as the closed-side safety. If you can do that, you can play all kinds of Cover 1 with Moore in deep centerfield, and your scheme is looking really sound with all those corners who can cover man-to-man.
Also, you can start moving Woodson, who is only nominally a safety, all over the defense. This is a guy who has a long history of being an outstanding blitzer and run-defender off the slot. He’s as good at missing blocks in-close as a Will LB, and he’s always been willing to get in the mix physically when a run is coming at his edge.
Because Woodson is so comfortable close to the line of scrimmage, and as a blitzer, you start having a lot of interesting flexibility as a zone-blitz team. The Packers have been making great use of him in this way since Dom Capers arrived, and the Broncos could get a lot of value out of it too.
If I had the Broncos' current defensive backs, plus Woodson, I’d play man-free all day, and man up Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez with Woodson and Champ Bailey, respectively. Then I’d let Chris Harris cover Danny “Not Even Close to Welkah” Amendola, and have Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie take whatever other dude is playing outside for the Patriots. I’d feel pretty good about that, with Rahim Moore over the top.
One thing I want to pre-emptively make clear is that the Broncos don’t really use a player who fits the traditional notion of a “strong safety.” Your acquaintances at the Denver Post don’t get that; your friends at IAOFM do.
Because the Broncos defense is geared to be a seven-man front, there’s no need for a safety to always be down in the box to help stop the run. That makes the pass coverage more sound, which is highly important in today’s pass-happy NFL.
When a Jeff Legwold or Mike Klis starts talking about how Woodson may be too small or fragile to do a proper John Lynch impression, ignore them. This defense doesn’t need a Lynch; it needs a Woodson. When you have the nasty run-stuffers up front that the Broncos have, you're not really going to need to buzz a safety down as much as, say, most of the smallish Colts teams that Peyton Manning played on.
One thing that the potential of a Woodson signing makes me think about is the strong possibility of selling off a Tony Carter as the preseason comes to an end. Carter could start for a lot of teams in the NFL, and for the Broncos, he’ll likely struggle to get onto the field. I’d bet they could get a third-round pick for Carter from some needy team that’s trying to compete in 2013, especially if they have a preseason injury to a cornerback.
I’m hoping that the Broncos get this Woodson deal done, because I think it’s the one move out there that makes them an even more dangerous Super Bowl contender. As Doug said earlier, let’s get this done, John Elway.
If you’ve been wondering where I’ve been lately, I took another new job, this time in Yuma, Arizona, which is on the border of California, Arizona, and Mexico. I’ve been in the process of out-chopping from the last place, and getting things into place at the new one.
The new job is a good step up in grade for me, and I’m very excited about it. I’m also closer to some key friends and family, and I'm seeing a lot more Broncos fans around here than I did in Tallahassee, Florida, so that’s good too. Please bear with me, as my writing will probably continue to be a little bit infrequent over the next couple weeks, as I continue to work to get settled.