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Cornered, Patrick Peterson Shuts Down Role Change

Posted Aug 11, 2017

All-Pro cover man believes he's most valuable tracking No. 1 receivers

Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson will retain his usual role of guarding No. 1 receivers in 2017.

Tyrann Mathieu loves to roam.

The Cardinals’ star became the highest-paid safety in the NFL because of his ability to impact games from various spots on the field. He is a menacing blitzer from the slot, defends well in man coverage and can ballhawk from center field.

His teammate and good friend, cornerback Patrick Peterson, has a completely different job description. The perennial Pro Bowler is even more handsomely paid, but to do one job: stick like glue to the opposing team’s top receiver.

“I don’t think me, personally, could do it,” Mathieu said. “A lot of games, it’s just him running up and down the field and that’s boring. He’s got that old soul so he’s got a lot more patience.”

There’s no denying Peterson’s excellence in his shadowing role. The 27-year-old has followed No. 1 wideouts more than any other cornerback in the NFL over the past few years and has been terrific slowing them down.

But it also means offensive coordinators know exactly where he will be on most snaps, which begs the question: Would the Cardinals be better served to move him around on occasion to confuse a quarterback?  

Peterson’s speed and playmaking ability would naturally translate anywhere. He could fly in on a blitz, switch onto an unsuspecting receiver or lurk in the middle of the field.

[READ: PETERSON TALKS CANTON, AND FRIDAY BEFORE THE RAIDERS]

Peterson has averaged a relatively meager 2.8 interceptions the past four seasons because quarterbacks know where he’s going to be and avoid throwing at him. If his intentions were more disguised, theoretically he could be in line to make more splash plays.

Peterson pauses long enough to fully chew on the question, leaving a reporter to believe a change might be coming in 2017. And then he squashes the idea.

“No,” Peterson said. “I want that guy.”

Peterson takes great pride in facing the opponent’s best receiver, because in his mind, it’s simple. If he limits the main aerial option, the whole offense is going to run at less than optimum capacity.

If there isn’t a Julio Jones or Antonio Brown that week, Peterson still wants the top target.

"Say, for instance, we’re playing the Jaguars, who have two top guys (Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns),” Peterson said. “We’ll go to see how many targets and catches they have, and that’s what predicates week to week. If they have a number of guys, that’s who Pat is going to get, who is most likely to get the ball. And I love that. At the end of the day, when I do have those No. 1 guys, I have the opportunity to make a play, as opposed to guarding the No. 2 or the No. 3 and the ball is not coming my way.”

It’s a salient point. If Peterson is rarely getting tested now – he had the lowest target rate in the NFL among cornerbacks in 2016, according to Pro Football Focus – teams surely won’t be throwing his way if he’s guarding a clearly inferior player.

The only way to do it would be to disguise Peterson’s intentions, but defensive coordinator James Bettcher doesn’t seem keen on testing that out.

“The old adage is, if it works, why would we change things?” Bettcher said. “Pat’s done such a great job handling those matchups on a weekly basis. I think if we changed that, Patrick wouldn’t be too happy if he wasn’t covering the No. 1 guy on a weekly basis, and I probably wouldn’t have my job very long.”

Recent cornerback addition Tramon Williams has been in both roles. He guarded No. 1 receivers with the Packers, but last year played outside corner, nickel back and safety with the Browns.

“Moving around the field is kind of nice, because no one ever knows where you’re at,” Williams said. “You can affect the game in a lot of different ways.”

While Peterson could excel in either role, Williams said there is a level of prestige that goes with chasing the game’s best pass-catchers.

“From playing that part when I was in Green Bay, you definitely take pride in it,” Williams said. “Coaches believe in you and your skillset enough to follow a big-time guy around and expect you to play at a high level against him. You’re cut from a different cloth when you do that type of thing.”

Peterson doesn’t totally dismiss the idea of a switch-up, but any adjustments in 2017 will be small.

“That’s what we’re working on this camp,” Peterson said. “Coach (Bettcher) is trying to put myself in different coverages, to where we can kind of disguise when we’re bringing that pressure, when we’re playing man, when we’re playing zone. We’re definitely working on that, but at the end of the day we’re going to stick to our meat and potatoes.”

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