Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson has only allowed four catches in four games this season.
Patrick Peterson thinks his 2014 season was "eye-opening."
He doesn't mean it as a good thing.
The cornerback weighed too much and didn't prepare enough during the week. He said he leaned on his athletic ability "seven out of 10 times I was on the field." He still made the Pro Bowl, but understood once the year was over he had to change.
Not only did he change, but it's been apparent. His weight is down to 203 pounds – that came before training camp even started, but he's proud of that number. Less tangible is what he's done on the field, although perhaps the biggest signal the Cardinals are getting the cornerback they wanted is his lack of work.
Through four games, Peterson's cover responsibility has only been targeted 12 times, according to profootballfocus.com. He's
only allowed four catches – although the most damaging came on a play where he didn't even have a chance to get to the ball. The 48-yard touchdown to Josh Bellamy in Chicago was Peterson's man, but a miscommunication left Peterson far from the play.
Even with that play factored in, PFF reports Peterson has only allowed 85 yards so far.
"I think I'm playing pretty solid," Peterson said, tamping any major praise. "I haven't gotten much action. I think I'm playing pretty solid but October is the real tale of the tape."
With that, Peterson listed the receivers with whom he must deal, starting with Calvin Johnson Sunday in Detroit. Then comes Antonio Brown in Pittsburgh before a question against the Ravens – Steve Smith is hurt. Then Peterson noted the Bengals' A.J. Green is on the horizon. Cincinnati visits Arizona just before Thanksgiving.
If Peterson keeps playing as he has, the matchups will make for fascinating football.
"I don't really want to jinx him," safety Tyrann Mathieu said. "He's playing top corner football right now. We play so much man coverage, you kind of need that out of your best guy."
The weight loss made a difference, because last year Peterson acknowledged he simply wasn't quick enough to make plays. But a big part of his improvement has come off the field, in an area that Peterson had previously said he did well but now says needed major improvement.
"In Year 5, I feel I really turned the corner," said Peterson, who has one interception this season. "I definitely take my preparation more seriously than my first four years."
That includes understanding route combinations better. It includes more intensive video work on receivers he has faced
previously – like Johnson this weekend – to understand how they attacked Peterson and what he can do to better his odds.
Defensive coordinator James Bettcher said Peterson has "really committed to doing the little things" to improve his game. Those are the types of things Bettcher has seen high-profile veterans – like Robert Mathis in Indianapolis – do over the years to reach their star status.
It also means little things on the field. Asked if he's gotten bored at times this season when teams stay away, Peterson smiled. "I learned my lesson with that a couple years ago," he said, adding "I have to stay focused for 60 minutes."
The struggles Peterson had last season and the criticism that came with it, especially with constant comparisons to Seattle's Richard Sherman, have driven him.
"(He's) playing like every play is his last play. Practicing like this is his last practice," quarterback Carson Palmer said. "Very focused. He seems very determined. I think last year, some of the things that were said about him left a chip on his shoulder, and it shows."
There also are some bigger things in play. Peterson may have cautioned about any praise this early in the season, but he also brought up something cornerbacks coach Kevin Ross said to him at practice.
"Guys that are planning to get into Canton," Ross told Peterson, "it's not all about the interceptions you get now. It's about what you are giving up."
Whether or not the Hall of Fame is Peterson's ultimate goal, it fits well into Peterson's start to 2015. Up until this point, he hasn't given up much.
Images from past matchups between the Cardinals and this week's opponent, the Detroit Lions