With Casey Hayward out on Sunday, Michael Davis has become the most crucial defensive player for the LA Chargers.
Casey Hayward‘s lingering groin injury has taken him out of some drives this season. It wasn’t shocking to see him declared out this week, but it is unfortunate. Hayward had started 106 consecutive games, 71 with the LA Chargers, prior to this Sunday.
No one would confuse the 2020 season for one of Hayward’s best, but he is still the most critical part of the secondary. Cornerback #1 is the toughest defensive injury a team can try to replace with how much depth is tested. That’s especially true for the Chargers right now.
Chris Harris and Brandon Facyson will be back. Harris was activated off of the IR while Facyson comes off of the COVID-19 list. In terms of depth, it’s far from the worst scenario for the Chargers, but it’s not great to have two key secondary cogs that haven’t played in a while. Harris hasn’t played since Week 3 vs. Carolina while Facyson hasn’t played in nearly a month since the Denver game.
That puts a lot of pressure on Davis in particular. We won’t know the exact matchups and formations until Sunday, but it’s not hard to see Davis becoming CB #1. Harris will likely be on a snap count due to his return from injury while Watkins only played one series as an outside corner in Hayward’s absence last week.
On a technical level, that would leave Davis to cover Bills’ star wideout Stefon Diggs. It’s not quite that simple though. Buffalo motions Diggs a lot to keep the defense on their heels. In all likelihood, all three corners on the field will have to cover #14 at some point. Diggs has the third-most receiving yards in the league when against single coverage.
To Davis’ credit, this has been his best season from a coverage standpoint. His PFF coverage grade is a 68 in 2020. That’s over 11 points higher than his 2019 score and three points higher than his 2018 score. There are still some moments in coverage where he looks somewhat unsettled, but he’s been the most consistent defender from rep to rep this season.
Avoiding the yellow flags will be another key for Davis in this one. The second Jets’ touchdown drive in the third quarter was fueled by a 3rd and 3 pass interference penalty committed by Davis on Denzel Mims. Allowing the Jets to have extended drives is one thing, but allowing Diggs and Allen to have extra chances at the end zone is another.
With the loss of Hayward and the fluctuations with depth at cornerback in this game, this is arguably the most important game of Davis’ career. It’s certainly the biggest role he will have played in an NFL game to this point.
Davis has the speed to keep up with Diggs and other Buffalo receivers, but he’ll have to have a little bit more finesse to keep up with the opposing route runners. Starting as the primary outside corner could also mean a lot for the former undrafted prospect heading into free agency.