D.J. Hayden is playing his ass off for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
There’s really no other way to put it. He’s playing beyond even healthy expectations for him and making plays in both the passing game and defending the run... and yesterday was no exception.
His three tackles, including stop on a screen for no gain that sets up the second-and-long where Yannick Ngakoue picked off a pass and returned it for a touchdown.
His forced fumble in the third quarter opened the dam of turnovers and changed the course of the game.
#Jaguars CB @_Go_DJ_ forced the fumble and SS @Rharr_15 recovers! pic.twitter.com/wlqKWzX5UN— Big Cat Country (@BigCatCountry) October 20, 2019
And head coach Doug Marrone was nothing but complimentary when the dust settled from the game.
“I think D.J. is really playing at a high level,” Marrone said after the game. “He’s practicing really well and he’s playing really well. He’s a guy that I kind of always say by the way he practices and the way he is around the building, we’ve got him in a really good place meaning he’s good. ‘Hey coach, how are you doing?’ He communicates, he goes out and he practices hard and he does everything and then he performs well. At the end of the day, nobody’s going to say anything because he’s not getting a lot of balls caught on him and he’s doing a heck of a job.”
Over the course of this season, Hayden has made the plays — largely out of the spotlight — that have set up teammates for success and they’re not plays you typically think of a cornerback making. His blitzes create mismatches that defensive linemen are taking advantage of, even though he has a sack himself. His three tackles for a loss are tied for the lead among the secondary. Yesterday, he made a tackle for no gain that forced the Bengals into a situation where they needed a lot of yardage and Marrone spoke on that as well.
“I’ll tell you about the play that people aren’t going to talk about — the play before Yannick (Ngakoue) intercepts this screen for the touchdown, D.J. makes a hell of a play on the screen prior to it. So prior to that play, D.J. makes a play on the sideline, right — the first screen — then they come back with another screen and the next thing you know Yannick’s got a big play. I always say to myself if D.J. doesn’t make the play on the screen and the guy gets a big gain, do they come back something different? You know what I mean? I look at him as he’s making plays all around that are causing effect for us to play better.”
It was a consideration that the Jaguars might move on from Hayden with an out in his contract after this season. If he keeps playing like this, there’s no way they do that.