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Mental Gains Help Patrick Peterson Combat Physical Slowdown

Notes: Jalen Thompson back to full strength; Kirkpatrick misses practice again

CB Patrick Peterson breaks up a pass intended for Seahawks wide receiver DK Metcalf.
CB Patrick Peterson breaks up a pass intended for Seahawks wide receiver DK Metcalf.

Patrick Peterson tried to get on his horse, but he couldn’t catch the human stallion.

In his prime, the Cardinals cornerback would have been stride-for-stride with DK Metcalf during Budda Baker's interception in Week 7, as they had nearly-identical 40-yard dash times at the NFL Scouting combine.

An eight-year age gap put a wrench in those plans, as the 30-year-old Peterson may no longer have the elite speed of his youth.

Despite that physical difference, Peterson did an outstanding job on Metcalf in the game, allowing just one catch for six yards in the 42 routes they matched up, per NextGenStats. Much like a veteran pitcher losing some velocity on his fastball, Peterson has learned alternate ways to success.

"I'm not going to admit that I'm losing a step, but I am 10 years in the game right now, and things have changed," Peterson said. "I have to make sure I'm mentally sharp every week so I can put my body in the best position possible."

Peterson has seen every conceivable route combination during his decade of NFL experience, and often knows what's coming before the snap. In a game of inches, that mental edge is crucial.

"As you get older, the game starts slowing down," Peterson said. "Being a corner, you have to learn how to take away angles and take proper angles to put you in position. With me playing the game at a high level for so long, for ten years now, I understand the proper angles to take.

"Now I know when to look back for the ball, when to play through the receiver's hands. Like that play after the screen play, they came back and ran the 9-ball. Yes, (Metcalf) did get me off the line of scrimmage, but I knew where he was going, so I beat him to his spot. Next thing you know, I played through his hands to break up that ball. It's a mental game for me at this point."

Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said it's critical for veterans to adapt later in their careers.

"Once they get into their eighth, ninth, tenth year, the physical tools always diminish," Joseph said. "Guys like Patrick, and all the great ones I've been around, those guys adjust by playing with their brains. You can't play beyond eight, nine years at corner in this league only on physical tools. Most guys after the combine, their 40 time and jumping ability go downhill."

There was a long stretch during Peterson's career where he shadowed the opposing team's best receiver, and yet quarterbacks still rarely challenged him. That is no longer the case, as Peterson said he is seeing about six targets per game this season compared to two or three in the past.

While Peterson's speed may be waning, his elite ball skills haven't eroded. He catches throws as naturally as receivers, as evidenced by his toe-tapping end zone interception of Russell Wilson.

Peterson has a pair of interceptions on the season, and if quarterbacks keep testing him, he could end up with four or more for only the second time in his career. Peterson even has eyes of reaching his career-high mark of seven interceptions set in 2012.

"I definitely feel like I can get at least five more," Peterson said. "I just have to continue staying patient, staying in the game and when that play presents itself to me, I have to make the best of it. And hopefully once I catch one this Sunday, I can take it to the house."

JOSEPH EXCITED ABOUT JALEN THOMPSON RETURN

Joseph said the Cardinals debated bringing back second-year safety Jalen Thompson for the Seahawks game, but instead allowed him to fully heal from an ankle injury.

He is now full strength and will return to his starting role against the Dolphins alongside Budda Baker. Thompson has been out since getting hurt on the first series of the season opener against the 49ers.

"He brings a speed factor to our defense that Budda brings," Joseph said. "He's not quite Budda yet, but he has some of those qualities, as far as tackling and how fast he plays. … This kid is a good football player, and we've missed him."

KIRKPATRICK MISSES ANOTHER PRACTICE

Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick (thigh) missed a second straight practice on Thursday. The Cardinals will already be without nickelback Byron Murphy on Sunday because he tested positive for COVID-19.

Kevin Peterson is expected to be the main cornerback option in the slot, while Prince Amukamara could be elevated from the practice squad and used on the outside if Kirkpatrick can't play.

"Prince has been here for a bit now and he's caught up," Joseph said. "He's ready to roll. He's a veteran player that's very smart, and he's had some good days in practice. We'll see about Dre. He feels fine, feels great. Hopefully he continues to get better and he can play for us, but we'll see."

Defensive tackle Jordan Phillips (foot), linebacker Jordan Hicks (ankle/wrist) and linebacker Ezekiel Turner (toe) were limited in practice. Running back Kenyan Drake (ankle) did not participate.

For the Dolphins, running back Matt Breida (hamstring) did not practice while cornerback Jamal Perry (foot) was limited. Leading rusher Myles Gaskin (knee) was placed on injured reserve and won't play.

Images from practice at the Dignity Health Training Center, presented by Hyundai.

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