COSTA MESA, Calif. – Casey Hayward led the league in interceptions last year with seven but has yet to grab one in 2017.
Still, the Pro Bowl cornerback for the Los Angeles Chargers is playing well. Hayward has six pass breakups this season, and according to Pro Football Focus he allowed just two receptions on seven targets for a total of 17 yards last week against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Hayward followed Philadelphia receiver Alshon Jeffery around the field most of the time last week, and he could be assigned similar duty on Sunday when the Chargers take on the New York Giants and talented receiver Odell Beckham Jr.
Hayward usually plays on the left side. Through four games, he has been lined up on the left side for 164 of his 255 defensive snaps (64.3 percent).
“I’m pretty sure I’ll be on him,” Hayward said. “He lines up on the side I’m on a lot, so I’m pretty sure I’ll be on him a lot this game.
“You look forward to each and every week. It just so happens to be one of the top receivers in the game this week. So it’s a little different than matching up with some of the other guys because he does a lot of things that big receivers do, and he does a lot of things that small receivers do. He’s so quick and fast, and he makes people miss tackles. So we have to come with a right game plan, be ready to tackle him and be ready to compete.”
The Chargers have allowed just 192 passing yards a contest (No. 6 in the NFL) and just one passing play of 40-plus yards, so the Bolts have been decent at limiting explosive plays.
However, the Chargers face one of the most elusive receivers in the NFL in Beckham.
“He’s so athletic and has such a great skill set,” Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said. “A lot of times on the perimeter, the ability to win the 50-50 ball is critical. And you can see tapes of explosive plays where he wins that battle a lot of the time.
“He can also take a short pass or a slant and turn it into a big gain. So he’s explosive on the outside. They do a great job of moving him around. And the yards after catch, he can make people miss. So he’s really got all those things that make him very challenging.”
Bradley said it will be important for his defense to locate Beckham pre-snap and do a good job of keeping the LSU product in front of them. And while Hayward probably will see some time opposite him, Bradley said stopping Beckham will be a group effort.
The Chargers also cannot forget about Beckham’s counterpart Sterling Shepard, who actually leads the Giants in receptions (21) and receiving yards (254).
“Every week is going to be different,” Bradley said. “Sometimes we’ll put him (Hayward) based on where the top receiver that we like the matchup. Sometimes it’s just where we play him on the left. Sometimes it’s by formation.
“We just go through by game plan, and based on formations and things like that, try to place him where we feel like it’s best for his skill set as well.”