As we approach the Packers first meeting with the Minnesota Vikings, it’s clear that both teams are suffering with injuries to key players. The Vikings may miss another start from Percy Harvin, one of the few playmakers they have on offense. The Packers meanwhile may miss a start from both Charles Woodson and Clay Matthews for a third straight week, the two biggest stars on their defense. So both teams are searching for playmakers among the young players they have, and especially in their respective rookie classes.
When Harvin went down with an injury the Vikings desperately needed a receiver to take his place. Kyle Rudolph, the big target tight end, is a nice safety valve but not game breaking threat. Most of the rest of the wide receivers are a big pile of "meh". The only real hope was rookie Jarius Wright, and fortunately for the Vikings, Wright has stepped up and answered the call.
Wright is a similar type of receiver to Randall Cobb or Percy Harvin. He is a quick receiver with good speed who is able to be a deep threat and playmaker out of the slot. In the two games since Harvin went down Wright has caught 10 passes for 114 yards. He has also stepped up in taking Harvin’s place as the primary target of Christian Ponder, with 10 targets and 7 receptions in this last week’s game against the Bears. If the Vikings have any hope of opening their offense up and making it more than just handing the ball to Adrian Peterson then they have to get Wright going in the passing game.
The Packers too have found a rookie playmaker who can handle the task of covering Wright, Casey Hayward. As many of you know, Hayward was a second round pick in this last draft and has quickly moved up the depth chart to become one of the best corners the Packers have on their roster. Last week Hayward’s snaps were down due to the imposing Hakeem Nicks. This week expect that to chance since the Vikings do not have a receiver like Nicks on the roster and they need the game changing ability that Hayward can bring to the table.
Christian Ponder is a quarterback who can be solid against mediocre defenses, but struggle against pressure and savvy defensive backs. He’s a quarterback who can have his confidence shaken. That’s going to be Hayward’s job this week while covering Wright, shake Ponder’s confidence and pick a few passes. Normally this would be a tall order for a rookie, but Hayward has shown a veteran’s awareness when on the field and should be capable of making a big play happen…whether picking the ball himself or getting his hands on it so another Packer defender can come away with the INT.
Without Woodson and Matthews the Packers need their young defenders to make big plays, and no one has been better at that than Casey Hayward. This week’s match up with him and Wright seems just right for Hayward to make a play and bring back the swagger of the Packers’ defense.