Casey Hayward will try to block it out of his mind, but he knows: Green Bay’s divisional-round playoff matchup Saturday at Arizona could be the versatile cornerback’s last game with the Packers.
Hayward, a second-round draft pick in 2012 out of Vanderbilt, will become an unrestricted free agent when the season ends and figures to be in line for a payday. He has started in 12 games this season (including the playoff win at Washington) and as a fixture in the nickel and dime sub-packages, he virtually is always on the field when Green Bay is on defense. According to Pro Football Focus, with 933 defensive snaps he trails only safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (1,072 ) and linebacker Clay Matthews (1,045).
Hayward is tied for fourth on the team with a career-high 73 tackles. Although he has no interceptions, he has seven passes defensed and ranks among the NFL’s best in coverage from the slot position.
Given that the Packers rewarded cornerback Sam Shields with a rich, four-year contract extension in 2014 and then selected cornerbacks Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins with their first two 2015 draft picks, Hayward might find a greater demand for his services on the open market.
“Whenever it comes, it comes,” Hayward said of a decision on the next step in his NFL career. “I can only control what I can control. I control my play and that’s what I’ve been doing all season, playing at a high level and pretty consistent all year. My film will show that when people start looking at me. Teams know that I’ve been a consistent player inside and outside. So when that time comes I’ll worry about it, but there’s just one goal right now and that’s to beat the Cardinals this week and try to move on and advance to the Super Bowl."
Hayward spoke with USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin about Saturday’s rematch against the Cardinals (who won the first meeting 38-8 on Dec. 27) and what lies ahead:
What kind of challenge does Arizona present for you and the Packers' defense?
You see the score the last time? They’re really good on the perimeter, they’ve got some big, fast guys. They’ve got Larry Fitzgerald, he’s their everything guy. David Johnson, their running back, is really good. Not many young guys have been running like he has. Carson Palmer has been playing at an MVP level. So, we have to do a good job of limiting those guys.
You lost to the Cardinals by 30 less than three weeks ago. Are there things you can do this time that will make a difference?
I hope so. It’s a different game. We can’t really worry about that first game. We watched the film and tried to make corrections and that’s what we hope to do. Their game plan is going to be different as well, so we can’t bank on things to be the same. But hopefully we can go out to Arizona and come back with a victory.
You’ve been playing both as an outside cornerback and in the slot. Which do you prefer?
Doesn’t matter. I just want to be on the field. I’m almost at 1,000 plays on the season, so it doesn’t matter where I’m at.
What are the biggest demands of each position?
Inside, it’s a lot different. There’s a lot more space when you’re inside. They have a lot of options in routes they can do. When you’re outside, you’re stretched more vertically. You have to be on your stuff when you’re outside. You face bigger guys when you’re inside, so you have to know who you’re going up against. And you have to be more of a communicator, you have to communicate with the inside guys, the linebackers, the outside guys …. The things you do inside get unnoticed because you have to do so many different things. You might have to blitz, you might have to cover; they might switch and have you do things like a safety. You have to be on your P’s and Q’s.
What’s it like trying to cover Larry Fitzgerald?
Savvy veteran. (Cardinals coach) Bruce Arians does a good job of putting him in positions to succeed. They play a lot off leverage. If we play a certain leverage, they run the other way. So we have to try not to be so predictable in our coverage and mix it up.
How important would it be to get Sam Shields back in the lineup?
Sam’s important. He’s a pivotal guy on this defense. They paid him because he’s one of the best DBs in the league. Just to have his presence back would give us a boost of energy. We didn’t have him the last time we played them, so if we have him back this week it definitely will help us out. He leads with his play. He’s not a big rah-rah guy but when he’s out there, his presence is felt.
What have you seen in the development of rookie cornerback Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins?
There are still some things they can learn, but that’s not just rookies … that’s myself as well. They’re moving in the right direction. I tell them it’s different in the regular season. It’s playoff time now, so the intensity goes up. They noticed that last game but they did a great job. The moment wasn’t too big; they stepped up. We needed those guys to step up just like they’ve been doing the whole season. To win the Super Bowl, those guys have to play well for us.
Do you consider yourself a playmaker, even though you don’t have any interceptions this season after having six as a rookie?
Yeah, I’ve made a lot of big plays this year. I haven’t had a chance to get my hands on a lot of balls, but that’s not because I haven’t been playing well. When I’m in good position, sometimes they don’t throw it. They might throw it to the ground or throw it wide. When I’m in the slot, even if I’m in good position, the ball might be overthrown. I think I’m still a playmaker, I think teams have to know where I am on the field. … But I don’t really care about that. Of course you want to get turnovers, but you just want to play at a high level. And if I wasn’t playing at a high level, I wouldn’t be playing.
If your Packers career does end when the season is over, what will be your fondest memory?
I hope winning the Super Bowl. You’ll have to ask me again after the season is over. Right now we’re still in the playoffs and that’s my main focus.
What do you like to do when you’re not playing football?
I watch a lot of movies. I’m a bowler …. I bowl with some guys on the team. Davante (Adams) bowls, Nate Palmer bowls, a lot of guys. It’s a good time. I’m probably around 145 with my average, but if you catch me on a good day my high is around 240.
So you like movies … have you seen “Concussion”?
I have not. I decided I wouldn’t see it … yet. I don’t want to see it during the season. I probably will watch it after the season but my mind probably is still going to be made up to play football, regardless of what it says. Everybody knows there’s risks. There’s risks when you wake up in the morning and walk outside. It’s a brutal sport but I’ve been playing it since I was 5 years old, so I’ll be fine with whatever decisions I make.
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