The last key match up was a good time to focus on Aaron Rodgers making his case for MVP as well as the match up of the week. Let’s continue that theme by talking about the other Packer player making a strong case for an end of year award but not getting lots of buzz either….rookie Casey Hayward.
Defensive rookie of the year is a tough award to get a read on this year. Typically there are one or two defensive rookies who are separating themselves from the pack at this point in a year. This year however there four or five rookie defenders who could have a real shot of getting the award….yet no one defender truly turning heads or making waves. Hayward leads all rookies in interceptions, and is tied for fourth in the league for picks as well, but has been inconsistent as a tackler and is currently a part-time player. Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner has turned in an impressive season with a 121 tackles, 2 sacks, 7 passes defended, and 3 interceptions. Great all around numbers for linebacker yet nothing earth shattering in the splashy numbers (sacks, interceptions, forced fumbles, etc.). Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly is second the league in tackles with 138, but has only one sack and one interception. Chandler Jones of the Patriots started the year strong and currently has 6 sacks, but has cooled as of late. The Rams’ Janoris Jenkins has put together some good games for a rookie, but has also been torched and only has 3 interceptions on the year. Even the Vikings’ Harrison Smith deserves some attention with some big plays and hard hits, but has only 3 interceptions so far this year. It’s been a good year for rookie defenders, but none are standing head and shoulders above the rest.
This could be the week where Hayward separates himself from the pack. The Titans are an offense that bears a striking similarity to that of the Minnesota Vikings. Both teams have a dynamic, home run hitting running back that is most of their offense. Both teams also have a young quarterback who is struggling during his second season. Finally both teams have limited weapons on the outside to take advantage of defenses stacking the box to stop the run. Recently, the Packers met up with the Vikings and the defense was able to pick off two passes. Given the similarities between the Titans and the Vikings it’s not hard to anticipate that there will be some opportunities there for Hayward to get his chance at making the highlight reel on Sunday.
The Packers will be in good shape on Sunday if they can force the game into the hands of second year quarterback Jake Locker. As stated a bit earlier, Locker is eerily similar to Vikings’ quarterback Christian Ponder. Besides the obvious comparisons such as time in the league and draft status (both quarterbacks were taken high in the first round last year), both players have also put up similar performances this year. Both quarterbacks have a near 1/1 touchdown to interception ratio (Locker throwing 9 TD’s to 9 INTs and Ponder throwing 14 TD’s to 12 INTs) and both have a similar passer rating (Locker coming in at 76.5 and Ponder at 78.6). Locker is a passer who is still learning and growing into his position, but right now is a quarterback who will make mistakes. These mistakes can come out even more when facing a mad scientist / defensive coordinator like Dom Capers…..a man who is able to disguise blitzes and find new alignments to maximize the strengths of his defense.
Just like Rodgers, Hayward has an opportunity on Sunday to make the highlight reel at the right time to secure a prestigious offseason award. It’s unknown right now how much Locker will tempt fate and throw in Hayward’s direction, after all teams have been throwing less and less to Hayward over the past month. If Locker does, expect Hayward to show off the ball skills that have earned him a jump in playing time and a chance to win Defensive Rookie of the Year.
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