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The Peterson Fear Factor

Posted Nov 30, 2011

Rookie may not break punt return every time, but threat is always there

Patrick Peterson's four punt return touchdowns, clockwise from top left: A 99-yarder against the Rams, 82 yards against the Ravens, 80 yards against the Rams and 89 yards versus the Panthers.

Sean Considine has seen it from every angle.

The Cardinals’ backup safety and key special teamer has been part of the unit that has cleared the way for the last three touchdowns dynamic rookie Patrick Peterson has scored on punt returns. When the season started, however, Considine was a Carolina Panther – and he was among the coverage guys caught inside when Peterson blew past him en route to his 89-yard touchdown in the season opener back in September.

“I understand how it is on the other side, how tough it is and what he can do,” Considine said. “When you play a guy like him or Hester, it’s the sole focus of the whole special teams unit for the week. It’s nice to know the Cowboys are talking (this week) about a guy like him and how they are going to deal with him.”

The punt return may be the ultimate home-run swing in football. With everything happening so fast, blocks break down, or perhaps the punter does a good job putting the ball on the sideline. Averaging 10 yards a return is solid production.

There is a feeling now, though, that Peterson should do more every time he touches the ball. Certainly, the potential is there.

“That puts a lot of pressure on the 10 other guys, even if you are away from the ball, to do your best to block,” Considine said. “Because you don’t know where his going to end up or how long the play will go.

“When he doesn’t get a big return, or gets just a couple of yards, for me personally it’s disappointing. We can always look at, ‘Hey, we didn’t make this block and that cost him the opportunity.”

Peterson has 558 punt return yards on 31 returns this season, a stellar 18.0 average. But 350 of those yards came on the four touchdowns, meaning on his other 27 returns, Peterson has averaged 7.7 yards a returns – not bad, but not spectacular.

That’s not to downgrade Peterson’s abilities or his accomplishments. But it shows that Peterson as threat may be as important as most of the results.

Peterson had 11 returns in between his two touchdowns against the Rams. Against the Eagles, six returns got Peterson 3, 7, 10, 0, 1 and 6 yards. Against the 49ers, he had just two returns, although he did get 10 and 12 yards on those. The Rams, in the second meeting, pinned Peterson to the sideline a couple of times, allowing him negative-1 and 0 yards before breaking one for 16 just prior to the 80-yard score.

“The good ones don’t get irritated,” Peterson said. “You don’t want to force the issue.”

Besides, half the battle has already been won.

“It’s easier said than done to say ‘We’re going to punt it out of bounds,’ or ‘We’re going to this with the ball,’ ” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “Those are hard things to do. It’s very important to keep him contained and to tackle him well. He’s exceptional. I think the evidence has been out there over the course of the first 11 games.”

Cardinals tight end Jeff King talked about how the Bears and stud return man Devin Hester have already created the blueprint. Teams have been leery of kicking to Chicago’s record-setter for a few years. Peterson has already entered that territory.

After his first couple of returns went nowhere in St. Louis, Peterson pulled together his return unit and insisted they stay patient. He insisted he’d make something happen and then he did.

“This isn’t something that happens all the time,” special teams coach Kevin Spencer said. “It’s been kind of freakish.”

Peterson’s goal, of which he has informed his blockers, is that by the end of the season, teams will refuse to kick to him anymore. With five games left, even with his résumé, he isn’t sure that will happen.  Why wouldn’t they avoid him? “Guys have ego and pride,” Peterson said. “Maybe they want to see it for themselves.”

The risk is always going to be in the back of the opponents’ collective mind, however. Considine, who has played against Hester, attests to that. Peterson said he can tell too.

“I think they get a little scared,” Peterson said. “At the same time, if they are going to give me a chance, I have to make them pay.”

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