Create Account

Or log in with Facebook


Log in

Or log in with Facebook

Packers Slotting Home a Bright Future with Cobb, Hayward

By Category

Packers Slotting Home a Bright Future with Cobb, Hayward

There was once a time in the National Football League, not so long ago, when the third receiver and nickel cornerback were not the vastly important positions they presently are in 2012. Dating back even into the 2000s, a majority of offenses stayed heavy in traditional sets, with two receivers, two running backs and a tight end serving as the typical formation.

On obvious passing third downs, a third or fourth receiver might have been called on to help spread the field. As such, nickel cornerbacks rarely saw the field.

How times have changed.

Thanks to the Wes Welkers and Brandon Stokleys of the world, the slot in the NFL has become as important to both sides of the football as any portion of the field. Offenses now spread the field on any down, hoping to negate the evolution of pressure-orientated defenses by forcing the 11 defenders to cover every inch of the field. As defenses naturally spread in response, the middle of the field became an area where offenses can attack relentlessly.

The Green Bay Packers, with 22-year-old receiver Randall Cobb and 23-year-old cornerback Casey Hayward, have a young, talented player on both sides of the issue who can control the slot portion of the field.

Cobb, drafted with the last pick in the second round of the 2011 NFL draft, has already blossomed into one of the game's best slot receivers.

According to Pro Football Focus, Cobb is currently fifth in the NFL in receptions from the slot with 22. Of the players ahead of Cobb, only Welker—the godfather of the slot position—has been more productive on a per-route-run basis. Cobb has run just 139 routes from the slot, catching a pass on over 18 percent of his slot routes.

Also, Cobb's catch rate from the slot of almost 85 percent is the best in the game through six weeks.

To further highlight just how productive Cobb has been inside this season, consider what the Packers received from its top slot receivers last season. Greg Jennings, who ran roughly half of his routes from inside, caught 33 passes in 2011 from the slot. Donald Driver, running close to 70 percent inside, had just 29. Cobb is on pace to obliterate both numbers this season.

And since Aaron Rodgers became the Packers starting quarterback in 2008, Driver's 52 catches from the slot in 2008 remain the team's high water mark. Cobb, who is taking over the majority of Driver's snaps from the slot this season, should also beat that total in 2012.

The numbers are easy to understand. Cobb is the quintessential slot player; Intelligent and precise in his route running, with lightning-fast feet and an unwillingness to go down after the catch. Rodgers said as much about Cobb Tuesday.

“Very intelligent and deliberate about his preparation," said Rodgers, who also called Cobb potentially GM Ted Thompson's best ever draft pick. "He understands soft spots in zones, he’s very detailed in his route running."

Like Cobb, Hayward is winning consistently inside. Hayward just does it for Dom Capers' defense.

A second-round pick out of Vanderbilt in 2012, Hayward has quickly established himself as a player worthy of handling the difficult task of covering slot receivers.

For receivers, the slot is a matchup advantage. Many times, receivers get a safety or third or fourth cornerback to work against, and anticipation and reaction are both on their side.

The same can't be said for slot cornerbacks. While outside cornerbacks have the benefit of using the sidelines to their advantage, slot corners must handle any kind of route or route combination. Often times, slot receivers will be given the freedom to react to how a defense is playing the individual matchup, whether it is pushing up the seam, cutting inside or out or sitting down inside a soft zone. The options are endless and work against any kind of coverage. Cornerbacks must be ready for it all.

Hayward, in a somewhat limited sample size, has been up to the task.

According to PFF, Hayward has allowed a passer rating of just 47.6 while covering the slot this season, second best in the NFL. Only Baltimore Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb, who was placed on IR with a torn ACL this week, has been better in terms of passer rating against.

Hayward simply hasn't allowed quarterbacks many chances to beat him inside.

Over 55 snaps from the slot, Hayward has allowed just seven total targets and five catches for 43 yards. He also intercepted a pass while covering Indianapolis Colts receiver Reggie from the slot in Week 5. On the play, Wayne ran an out-and-up route, but Hayward stayed in Wayne's hip pocket for the duration, turned his head around on the throw and made the interception. It was picture-perfect coverage on a dangerous receiver and route combination.

Hayward's other two interceptions—both against the Houston Texans Sunday night—came while he playing outside.

Packers head coach Mike McCarthy awarded Hayward with a defensive game ball after Green Bay's 42-24 win over the Texans, then had a glowing review of Hayward's progress during his Monday press conference.

"I thought he played very well in his opportunities last night," McCarthy said. "He's a young player, I just think he's a heck of a football player. For a rookie to come in here and play as many positions and to pick it up the way he has. He just need to play. I'm very happy with the progress he's making."

The Packers have trusted Hayward with as many slot snaps (55) as Charles Woodson, who was the NFL's first real master against the slot receiver. Woodson, now 36 years old, had the best passer rating against him in the slot over a four-year span from 2008-11.

Woodson has since moved to safety in 2012, but he still plays against inside receivers when the Packers come out of their base defense. Considering Woodson continues to slow, and his penalties from the slot increase, one could reasonably assume that Capers will have Hayward man the slot more and more as the season progresses.

Capers' best secondary just might be Sam Shields and Tramon Williams on the outside, Hayward inside and Woodson and Morgan Burnett as the deep safeties. Hayward has been that good.

Attention to the slot isn't just a passing fade, either. Having a combination like Hayward and Cobb should continue paying dividends for the foreseeable future.

Although schemes on both sides of the ball are continually evolving as smart football men figure out better ways to win, spread offenses are just starting to get their footing in the NFL. The importance of winning in the slot isn't likely to fade away anytime soon.

Regardless of any changing trends, the Packers should be in golden hands with young, impressive players in Cobb and Hayward on both sides of the equation.

  • Like Like
  • 0 points

Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (20) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

woodson4president's picture

Im gettin closer n closer to ordering me a new #29 jersey.

THEMichaelRose's picture

I haven't figured out which young Packers DB my mancrush is on.
Hayward, McMillian, Shields, and House are all vying for it.
House may be the guy, wanna see him healthy though before I go ordering any jerseys.

Fish/Crane's picture

and your old #29 jersey? I don't think Ken Stills is going to take that too well

calipackfan's picture

I want to get a brooklyn nets jersey they're pretty sick.

Mojo's picture

Cobb is a great example of why it helps to pick BPA. When he was selected there didn't seem to be much need for him on the roster. But in two years (the 2014 season) the Packers may be without Driver, Jennings, Finley & Jones. Also, Jordy's contract is up in 2014 along with Cobb's. So, in a very short time - 2014, from one of the best position groups we have, it's possible only Jordy & Cobb would remain.

As far as Hayward, it's great that he's developing. Throw in a healthy House, and a more dedicated Shields and the Packers might have a decent secondary after all. McMillian looks good too. It could be CWood that's holding the group back.

Mike's picture

Pretty sure Jones will be brought back. Though this time A-Rodg may be going to him asking him to come back as opposed to going to TT to resign Jones.

PackersRS's picture

Can you affirm that wasn't a need pick? Exactly due to the contract situation of the receivers and Driver's age?

It wasn't a need for that year, but a future WR, particularly one that could play the slot, was a need. And KR/PR was a need.

MarkinMadison's picture

I agree. KR/PR was percevied as being one of the few need areas that year. The offense was stocked. The defense had just won the Super Bowl with a number of key playser on IR. Special teams were clearly the weak area. Also, TT tends to look a few years down the road when drafting. Not that it always goes that way (see Draft 2012).

Mojo's picture

I believe the greatest Packers needs before the 2011 draft were considered to be an offensive tackle, OLB, DE and cornerback. A good KR/PR would be great, but not the top concern. Obviously taking Sherrod was their answer to the highest need. But they passed on the three other groups to take Cobb who was only targeted as a receiver about twice a game in 2011 (Starks was targeted more). I think most of were happy we got a viable KR, but saw him as someone who would be groomed for future use as a receiver. Which is why I posted there didn't seem to be a need for him at the receiver position (especially with Finley coming back from injury) when he was initially drafted in 2011 for the 2011 season.

If you want to say he's a need pick because other players at the same position might be leaving in the future, well you can say that about any pick.

Evan's picture

"If you want to say he’s a need pick because other players at the same position might be leaving in the future, well you can say that about any pick."

That's been TT's MO forever, though. He always tries to get the replacement a year or two before he's really needed.

Jake's picture

So who's the best pure safety after Burnett then? Is it Woodson? Or is McMillan looking good enough to be a starting caliber player?

Mike's picture

If Hayward continues to improve, Woodson may stay at Safety. McMillian may only come in for the dime packages as either the dime back or go to safety and Woodson will be the dime back.

Bearmeat's picture

This defense is quickly getting to the point where the only position I'm worried about on the field is the ILB.

If ONLY Desmond hadn't gotten hurt.. I'm concerned about Hawk in coverage and Jones being able to handle the run.

Mike's picture

Jones will be able to handle the run as long as the line does its job: keep blockers off him

Fish/Crane's picture


Lou's picture

It is great to see production in their first year like Mike McKenzie and Willie Buchnanon at CB, Hayward has shown great timing and instincts with the ball in the air. I'm tired about hearing about Burnett's potential, lets see some RESULTS. If he doesn't show this year its time for a veteran acquisition at free safety in the off season. The jury is still out on House, he looked terrific in the pre-season, time to see him do the same when it counts. Cobb is the real deal, no question about that. Jennings if he is back next year will be with the franchise tag.

Franklin Hillside's picture

Two slot machines. {rim-shot}

Fish/Crane's picture

throw in a quack quack and you've got a rap

RC Packer Fan's picture

I think that the Packers have 2 great rookie DB's. Both Hayward and McMillan I can see having bright futures. I was high on McMillan very early on, and Hayward I wasn't sure about because I didn't see him quite as much.

Hayward I think could be one of the Packers best young CB's they have had in quite some time. His ability to find the ball and deflect it or intercept it is exciting. Most rookie CB's can't do that.

With the Packers losing DJ Smith, i would like to see Capers useg an extra Safety in dime situations. Hawk has played great thus far this season, but he isn't great in coverage. McMillan would make a great LB type of safety in dime situations. He is a really good tackler and that would Allow Woodson and Burnett to stay deep.

Another Safety that would fit good in that role is Sean Richardson once he can come back and play.

Mike's picture

I'd like to see Capers experiment with the backup ILBs, as we've seen all three play well in coverage. Jones, Francois and Lattimore are all more athletic than the guys that are ahead of them on the depth chart. I like the 1-5-5 nickel or 2-3-6 dime better than having a safety play down low because the front is more stout to draws and generally the blitzes are better with LBs, though Woodson may be the second best pass rusher after Clay.

That said, if Capers is uncomfortable with the backup ILBs in his nickel and dime packages, I agree with your thought of having a safety as the ILB, though with a twist. As I said before, I like it when the guys up front can rush the passer, so I'd prefer to have Woodson down as the ILB/Safety and put McMillian at safety. But only time will tell!

Log in to comment, upload your game day photos and more!

Not a member yet? Join free.

If you have already commented on Cheesehead TV in the past, we've created an account for you. Just verify your email, set a password and you're golden.

Or log in with Facebook



"I firmly believe that any man’s finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle – victorious."
"The Bears still suck!"
"A school without football is in danger of deteriorating into a medieval study hall. "