Chicago Bears cornerback D.J. Moore has served as the club's starting nickelback the past two seasons. Out of the slot, he's been very valuable for the team. He has great quickness and instincts in man coverage. He led the team in interceptions (4) last year and did not allow a single touchdown. In addition, he's proved adept as a blitzing corner.
This season, Moore has shown some inconsistencies. He hasn't played poorly but he's had a few lapses in technique that have cost the team. He has allowed two touchdowns already and opposing quarterbacks have an 84.9 passer rating when throwing at him. In comparison, QBs have passer ratings of 57.4 and 45.3 when throwing to Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings respectively.
As a result of Moore's relatively subpar play, Chicago's coaching staff has begun to use Kelvin Hayden more on passing downs. Moore is a smaller player (5-9, 180) who relies on his speed and quickness to keep pace with opposing wideouts. Against bigger receivers, Moore has a tendency to get pushed around.
Hayden, on the other hand, has good size (6-0, 195) and is much stronger. In press coverage, Hayden has the ability to be physical in the slot and can handle bigger pass catchers.
Based on personnel, the Bears have recently have been rotating Moore and Hayden on passing downs. From Weeks 2-5, Hayden averaged 6.5 snaps per game. In the past three contests, he's averaged 15.6 reps per contest. He played his most snaps at nickelback last week, logging 23 reps compared to Moore's 12. It was the first time this season – outside of the Week 1 game, where Hayden filled in for an injured Charles Tillman – that Hayden played more snaps than Moore.
"If we have a player that we think we can win with, and after we play them they make some plays for us, we're going to play them," said coach Lovie Smith. "Defensive line, we have four starters but a lot of guys play. We try to keep that approach with a lot of positions and defensively you can do that.
"D.J. Moore and Kelvin Hayden both have skills that we think can benefit our team if both of them play. The last couple weeks we've seen it."
Hayden was signed to a one-year deal this offseason to provide veteran depth in the secondary. It has worked out well for the team, as Hayden has shown well at nickel, and can also back up both starters out wide, as he did in Week 1. Moore still has value on this team but Hayden gives Chicago different coverage options, allowing them to give opposing offenses varying looks.
Smith was noncommittal when asked how the reps would be split going forward.
"They're both good players and we'll look at the matchups and other things we have to decide exactly what playing time each guy will get," said Smith. "It may be a little different this week."
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.