Like Darren Sharper and Nick Collins, there are defensive backs coming out of college that just seem to get it and can contribute right away. This year it’s rookie cornerback Casey Hayward, who actually is tied for the lead in interceptions with 4.
Hayward has been a very good slot cornerback behind Tramon Williams, Sam Shields and Charles Woodson, but with Sam Shields out after being kicked in the shin against the Texans, Hayward was shifted out to the outside. How would he respond in his first start and being left on a island? Pretty good. While fans will gush at his acrobatic interception, I would probably suggest that everyone take a step back; Hayward is solid cornerback, just not a playmaker…yet
The Situation: The score is 17-6 in favor of the Packers with 1:25 left in the 3rd quarter. Needless to say things haven’t gone so well for the Rams in the 2nd half. For the first 30 minutes of football, the Rams had managed to keep the game close by using a steady diet of ground control football with running backs Steven Jackson and Daryl Richardson.
The Rams also managed to keep the ball out of Aaron Rodgers hands by controlling the clock and as a result the Rams had a significant advantage in the time of possession. However, the 3rd quarter was all about the Packers, who not only managed to flip the time of possession in 1 quarter, but had managed to do it with a methodical passing game which included 3 passing first downs capped off by a touchdown. Obviously the Rams are beginning to feel the pressure and need to answer back. This is the first play after the kickoff.
The Formation: The rams come out in a 2-1-2 formation (2WR-1TE-2RB), one of the old school staples of any offense. WR Brandon Gibson is aligned out wide to the top of the screen while WR Chris Givens is aligned out wide on the bottom of the screen. TE Lance Kendricks is inline next to the left tackle while TE Matthew Mulligan is aligns like an offset fullback. RB Steven Jackson rounds out the group by lining up 7 yards behind the scrimmage forming a standard offset I formation. The look is very biased towards running and presumably the Rams hope to catch the Packers off guard with a play action pass and a shot down the field.
The Packers counter with their base 3-4 defense. On the defensive line NT Ryan Pickett (79) has replaced the hurt BJ Raji (who was inactive for the game) and is flanked again by DE CJ Wilson(98) and Jerel Worthy (99). The linebacking core is composed of OLB Clay Matthews (52), OLB Erik Walden (93), ILB AJ Hawk (50) and ILB Brad Jones (59, who has replaced DJ Smith who replaced Desmond Bishop in the other ILB spot). In the secondary, CB Tramon Williams (38) is lined up across WR Gibson while CB Casey Hayward (29) is heads up against WR Givens. FS Morgan Burnett (42) and SS Charles Woodson (21) appear to be playing deep halves essentially making this a cover-2 defense. Overall, a traditional offensive formation countered by a traditional defensive formation.
The snap: QB Sam Bradford performs a fake handoff to RB Jackson who then leaks out of the offensive line and sits in the soft spot left by the vacating ILBs. TE Kendricks runs a dig route while TE Mulligan stays back to block OLB Matthews, which is a pretty big assignment to ask for a TE/FB. The route to look for is at the bottom of the screen where WR Givens runs a straight fade route.
On the defense Morgan Burnett rotates down leaving a single high safety (SS Woodson) as the lone safety to cover TE Kendricks, who is also covered by ILB Hawk while ILB Jones drops back apparently in zone coverage. I’ve labeled assignments as before: red arrows are either pass rush or contain, blue arrows are man coverage while green arrows indicate zone coverage.
Pass rush: Interestingly, they decide to double team DE Wilson while leaving OLB Walden one on one with the RT as well as leaving a FB/TE to block OLB Matthews all by himself, which overall is a little odd considering if you are attempting on a long pass attempt it would seem to make the most sense to block the pass rushers first (especially with the Packers defensive line who aren’t necessarily trying to collapse the pocket). Either way, both OLB Matthews and OLB Walden are too much for their blockers on this play. Probably the correct decision for QB Bradford at this point is to climb the pocket to escape the pass rush, where both OLB Matthews and OLB Walden are coming in wide. However QB Bradford panics and throws the ball early to Givens and probably doesn’t put enough air under the ball as well.
The Coverage: With SS Woodson looking to help out CB Williams first, CB Hayward is truly on an island but plays the route very well.
At the snap Hayward is playing off, so without any chance of rerouting the receiver it becomes all about speed and reaction time.
This screen capture shows Hayward playing WR Givens in textbook manner, meaning in the inside hip of the WR
At this point CB Hayward is already looking for the ball while WR Givens is finishing his route
As the ball is underthrown, WR Givens actually slips while trying to come back to the ball, allowing for an easy interception for Hayward who slides out of bounds after securing the interception.
Conclusion: One of the first things that was ever mentioned about Casey Hayward by the Packers staff was “that he doesn’t give up any big plays, but he’s not making them either” And in reality this is true; Hayward plays this route perfectly but its probably the fact that the pass rush got its job done and the forced throw from Sam Bradford that really made the interception. Ironically, Bradford probably wants to pick the Givens vs. Hayward match up since Hayward has been billed as having good instincts but poor speed, but not only does Hayward manage to keep up with Givens but he also shows some of his athletic ability by high pointing the ball infront of Givens.
This whole play is actually pretty astute for a rookie cornerback; essentially Hayward is disregarding all the short and maybe even the intermediate routes because he knows that the Rams feel it 1) necessary to get some momentum going after being ground down by the Packers offense 2) necessary to get a big chunk of yards in one go because the team is young and inexperienced enough where sustaining a long drive is difficult and 3) knowing his opponent is Chris Givens, who has become the deep option for Sam Bradford this year. Finally, Hayward has the observational skills to not only keep up with Givens but also peek at the Rams sideline for cues as to when the ball is arriving, which I have never heard any other defender use as a indication of a big play (it’s also almost impossible to defend unless the entire sideline stops watching the game)
Overall, it’s a very solid play from a rookie cornerback and Hayward lives up to his billing of not giving up the big play and even manages to make a play for himself. Hopefully he can build off this and become another young playmaker for the Packers.
Thomas Hobbes is a staff writer for Jersey Al’s AllGreenBayPackers.com.