Patrick Peterson’s measuring stick heading into Sunday towered over him at 6-foot-5.
But size didn’t matter to the Cardinals cornerback, who spent all week answering questions about facing the Detroit Lions’ Calvin Johnson.
Peterson knew it’d be the toughest match-up of his short career. He knew his reputation as a cornerback would be judged on how well he could contain one of the league’s top receivers.
After Sunday’s 38-10 win over the Lions, 6-foot-1 may be the new measuring stick for corners in the NFL.
“I thought I was ready for whatever he had to offer for me today,” Peterson said. “And I thought I measured up pretty well. I made a couple plays, he made a couple plays. But that’s what he does week in and week out, that’s what I do as well.”
The Cardinals left Peterson on Johnson one-on-one when the receiver lined up wide. When he moved to the slot, he was usually double teamed “gunner style,” meaning two defensive backs both defended Johnson right off the line of scrimmage like a team would slow gunners on punts.
Success against Johnson on Sunday was measured by how many touchdowns the All-Pro hauled in. Despite his 121 yards receiving, Johnson was held out of the end zone.
“That’s something we put in. I didn’t necessarily agree with the coverage, but the head man has the last say,” Peterson said. “He thought that would be the best opportunity to slow him down a little bit.”
When Peterson had him one-on-one, he used the sideline as an extra defender. From the first pass targeted for Johnson, which Peterson tipped away in front of Johnson, the Cardinals’ corner set the tone.
In the second quarter, Peterson baited Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford into throwing his way from the Lions 2-yard line. Johnson tried a double move and with Peterson playing outside and Rhodes inside, Stafford looked for his main option and threw it to Peterson instead. It was Peterson’s fourth consecutive game with an interception.
“We don’t think too many people can get off Pat with the deep ball,” Toler said. “He plays punt return so you see how he finds the ball.
“Just when (Johnson’s) on the outside, he’s not as dangerous when he’s on the inside. We just said we’re going to double team him as much when he’s in the slot because we know that’s when he gets sneaky with his routes.”
Johnson was targeted by Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford 17 times and finished with 10 catches. But the day wasn’t always that easy for Peterson.
He was called for defensive holding and Johnson got away with a blatant push off in the first half but Stafford’s pass was too long.
There wasn’t much Peterson – or any of his fellow defensive backs – could do to prepare for Johnson, a “freak of nature,” Gay said. But the one receiver in the NFL who may best resemble Johnson also wears a Cardinals’ jersey, Toler said.
Although he’s not as tall and is a sliver slower than Johnson,
“It was different. He was bigger than what I thought,” Peterson said. “He has a different skill set from a lot of other receivers. He’s so big, you pretty much throw the ball anywhere in his radius, he’s probably going to come down with it.
“I was on him pretty tight on a couple of those coverages but he has hands like Larry. Once the ball connects with his hands it’s hard to get it out. I thought I played pretty well today.”
Three times last week, Peterson went to coach Ken Whisenhunt to explain how he planned on covering Johnson.
He wanted the challenge to be on his shoulders only and he wasn’t afraid to say it. That’s how Whisenhunt likes it.
“That’s not an egotistical approach,” Whisenhunt said. “It’s a belief in himself, in wanting to get better. Let me tell you something, he worked very hard last week in practice.”
Peterson knew how tall his measuring stick would be and he played bigger.