This is part one of a four-part series that will analyze what I believe to be the four most intriguing Packers players going into the 2014 season. We will start off with Casey Hayward.
When Ted Thompson picked Hayward in the second round of the 2012 draft, I was excited. Hayward did not experience much playing time until Charles Woodson suffered a broken collarbone at St. Louis in week 7. After that, Hayward stepped in to play the Nickel (slot) cornerback position for the Packers. He definitely took advantage of his playing time, intercepted six passes and could have been selected as Defensive Rookie of the Year. He graded out as the second best cornerback in the NFL in 2012 by Pro Football Focus. Also, according to PFF, he only allowed a 44.6 completion percentage when thrown toward him and didn’t allow a touchdown or commit a penalty in 2012.
Hayward’s tremendous skill set was evident immediately. If you were to watch his 2012 tape without knowing that he was a rookie, you would have thought that he was a 10-year veteran.
I went back and watched his 2012 tape. His instincts (especially in zone coverage) in the slot were incredible. The aspect of his game that blatantly stands out on tape is his route recognition. He understands the route tree and what types of routes slot receivers run. To put it simply… he is a student of the game.
There were three plays in particular (from 2012) that I was really impressed with. I will not break down his 2013 film, because he was not healthy and only played in three games. There were two plays from the 2012 Week 11 game at Detroit that I will break down and one play from the 2012 Week 12 game at New York against the Giants. Here is the first play:
The Lions came out with an empty backfield (3X2 formation) on second and 7. The Packers were playing their nickel defense, so Hayward was playing the slot cornerback position (circled in red), lining up just inside of the No. 2 receiver (the No.1 WR is the furthest outside, the No. 2 WR is in the slot, and the No. 3 WR is Brandon Pettigrew, who is tight to the line of scrimmage circled in yellow). The Packers were playing a two-deep safety coverage that looked like Cover 2.
At the snap, Brandon Pettigrew, who lined up at the #3 WR spot (now in the middle of the field), ran a route called “Y Stick." Brad Jones, the inside linebacker, was playing his hook zone inside of Pettigrew. Hayward read Stafford’s shoulders and Pettigrew’s route and instinctively broke on the throw.
Even though the slot WR ran an “out” route, Hayward had the presence of mind to see Pettigrew’s route developing, squeeze the throwing lane and break up the pass.
On the next play, Hayward is lined up as the slot cornerback again (circled in red). It was third and 7, and the Packers were playing Cover 2 out of their dime defense. The Lions are in a 2X2 formation with Calvin Johnson at the top of the screen (circled in yellow).
This play by Hayward is textbook defensive back play from the slot cornerback position. He carried the slot receiver’s intermediate “in” route long enough to try to help the safety, and then when he saw Calvin Johnson coming across the field on a “drag," or “drive” route (yellow arrow), he came off the slot receiver (red arrow) and created a collision with Johnson. When Johnson was in short motion and when he started to run his route, he expected the area underneath to be cleared out, but what he didn’t expect was for Hayward to execute his “curl/seam” responsibility perfectly.
The final play I want to show you is from the 2012 Week 12 game at New York against the Giants. It was third and 6. The Packers were in their dime defense playing “Cover 2 Man” (man underneath with both safeties playing deep halves). The Giants came out with an empty backfield, and Hayward was playing the slot cornerback position near the bottom of the screen with inside leverage on Victor Cruz.
At the snap, the shifty Cruz ran a slant route, but Hayward kept his inside position and made contact with Cruz to break up the pass. This may look like an easy play, but seemingly every week, there are defensive backs who don’t stay inside and let receivers cross their face.
Here is the camera angle from behind (Hayward and Cruz are on the far left side of the screen):
These are just a few plays out of many from 2012 that demonstrate Hayward’s ability and potential. He had a rough time coming back in 2013 with his nagging hamstring injury, but I expect him to come back strong in 2014 and pick up right where he left off as the nickel (slot) cornerback. I think he has the potential to be the best slot cornerback in the league. If he stays healthy and plays like he did in 2012, and if the Packers can successfully address the safety position, the pass defense should improve dramatically.
Thanks for reading, Packers fans. Follow me on Twitter at @RobertOlson92 for daily analysis on the Packers.
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