ST. LOUIS – If Casey Hayward looked ready for that deep ball he intercepted in the third quarter on Sunday, it’s because he was.
“We just had yelled on the sideline they were going to take a shot,” Hayward said of a crucial Rams possession, trailing by 11 points late in the third. “Right before, take a shot. So me and Tramon were already anticipating a deep ball. I just turned around and located the ball.”
Quarterback Sam Bradford’s bomb to Chris Givens was underthrown, and Hayward actually had a pretty easy play on the ball. It was probably the easiest of Hayward’s four interceptions this season, a total that leads the league among rookies, with all coming in the last three games.
Hayward got his first NFL start in the Packers’ 30-20 victory at the Edward Jones Dome, and he made the most of it. He replaced Sam Shields, who’s out with injuries to his shin and ankle.
Since he arrived as a second-round draft pick, Hayward has shown impressive instincts and ball skills. As soon as Bradford’s long ball was off target on Sunday, the Packers were pretty sure they were getting a turnover.
“You’re confident he’s going to come down with some of the passes they put up,” veteran cornerback Charles Woodson said. “He came down with one today.”
The Packers capitalized on the turnover with a long drive for a field goal to take a 20-6 lead. In the bigger picture, Hayward’s play is another sign of the depth the Packers have developed on defense with a half-dozen rookies contributing regularly.
“In this league, it’s about accountability, and if you have that, you can play from day one,” linebacker Clay Matthews said. “We have to rely on those guys.”
Shoddy imitation: The Rams had a scout-team player this week wear a long blonde wig under his helmet as an impersonation of Matthews. The Packers move Matthews around the defensive formation a lot, so Rams coach Jeff Fisher came up with a creative way for his players to pay attention at all times to where Matthews is.
The real Matthews chuckled at the ploy, which he took as good-natured. He said he’s met Fisher before and respects him as a coach.
“It’s easy to emulate me with the hair, but it’s hard to emulate the heart I’ve got,” Matthews said. “I got a good laugh with that.”
Matthews came into the game with eight sacks to lead the NFC and added one more. He now has at least one sack in five of seven games this season.
With the Rams down to a third-string left tackle, Matthews saw his share of chip blocks and extra help in pass protection, but that’s nothing new. After the game, he sounded as though he was expecting a bigger game out of himself.
“Taking two (blockers) isn’t good enough anymore,” he said. “I have to win those and still be that driving force that helps this defense.”
Another gutsy call: Add a surprise onside kick to the fake field goal and fake punt the Packers have executed successfully this season.
After scoring their first TD to take a 7-3 lead, the Packers stole a possession from the Rams by recovering an onside kick and driving for a field goal. Mason Crosby chopped the ball off the tee and it bounced high into the air, high enough for Jarrett Bush to lay a big hit on the Rams’ Trumaine Johnson as Johnson leaped into the air to try to haul it in.
“(Johnson) made a good play,” Crosby said. “He reacted really well to it. He got his hands on it and I thought he was coming down with it. But Bush did a great job of hitting him and knocking that ball loose, and everybody finished the play well.”
The finisher was linebacker Jamari Lattimore, who pounced on the ball for the recovery.
“I anticipated it would keep rolling, and it did, so I got it,” Lattimore said. “I had it tucked in, and then some of my teammates came over me. It was pretty much a clean pick-up.”
Crosby was hoping for a cleaner kick when he got an attempt at the end of the first half to tie the franchise record with a 58-yard field goal. Crosby set that mark last season in the Metrodome.
This try never had a chance, though. It wobbled and leaked to the right immediately, leaving the Packers with just a 10-6 lead at intermission.
“How it came off my foot, I think I got a little quick and wasn’t able to clear my hips toward the target,” Crosby said. “That’s one the timing needs to be perfect, and I might have gotten a little quick.
“Long field goal, have to hit a perfect ball, and I didn’t there, but we did a great job bouncing back in the second half.”
Indeed, Crosby went 2-for-2 in the second half, hitting from 23 and 48 yards, the latter coming with 1:49 left in the game and giving the Packers a three-score lead at 30-13. He also hit a 47-yarder in the first half. Additional coverage - Oct. 21