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The Value Of An Elite Cornerback

Presence of Patrick Peterson, departure of Josh Norman has affected Cardinals, Panthers


Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson makes life easier on the rest of the defensive backs.

Elite NFL cornerbacks are known to talk, but they are paid by the Brink's truck because of their ability to keep receivers silent.

While interceptions are great, the real value in players like Patrick Peterson, Richard Sherman or Josh Norman is the ability to guard a player or area of the field by their lonesome, allowing defensive coordinators to mix and match the other 10 defenders.

The Cardinals have benefitted from it for years, especially since the start of 2015, when Peterson made the leap to arguably the best cover man in the game.

"You've got extra players," coach Bruce Arians said. "You never have to double somebody on that side of the field. You can go double somebody else."

The Panthers hit their stride a season ago with Norman playing shutdown defense in their secondary. He was franchise-tagged this offseason, but after a personality clash, was allowed to test free agency and signed with Washington.

His departure may not be the only reason for the team's pass defense struggles this year, but there's certainly a correlation.

In 2015 with Norman in the fold, Carolina allowed 5.4 net yards per pass attempt, which was the second-best mark in the NFL. In 2016, with Norman gone and several rookies in the rotation, the Panthers have given up 7.8 net yards per attempt, the third-worst in the league.

"Especially when you have the guy the caliber of Josh, the things he did last year, it can definitely hurt a defense (losing him)," Peterson said. "Having him take out No. 1 receivers, and now that you don't have that ability to put that guy on those receivers, it kind of hinders your gameplan now. Because if you can put a guy on a No. 1 receiver and solely have him on him, you can work around your other cornerback. You can't work around both of them. It's tough to do that."

Carolina still has standouts like linebacker Luke Kuechly and defensive tackle Kawann Short in the front seven, but the secondary issues have played a large role in its 1-5 start. Matt Ryan threw for 503 yards and four touchdowns in Atlanta's Week 4 win and Drew Brees totaled 465 yards and four scores in Carolina's loss to the Saints before the bye.

Bene Benwikere was released after Julio Jones caught 12 passes for 300 yards and a touchdown, and the Panthers are now leaning on rookies James Bradberry, Daryl Worley and Zack Sanchez. Without Norman locking down one side, it's imperative they progress, or the secondary will remain unstable.

"You want to keep certain guys if you can, but if it doesn't line up with what you're trying to do, then it doesn't happen," Kuechly said. "Obviously, Josh was a good buddy of mine. You hate to see a guy like that leave, but we trust what our guys upstairs are doing and what they believe in. I think we've got some good young guys in here that are going to do a really good job."

Peterson is dealing with sore ribs from Sunday's game against the Seahawks, so the Panthers may opt to test him. Even so, Peterson expects to get the task of slowing Carolina's top wide receiver, Kelvin Benjamin.

Defensive coordinator James Bettcher knows he's lucky to have such a vital piece at his disposal.

"We can say, OK, we're going to put Pat on (a certain wideout), and here's what we need to do against the rest of the guys," Bettcher said. "From a target standpoint, from a completion standpoint, you're able to wipe guys out of games doing that, especially the way Pat's playing the way right now and has been the last couple of years."

The Cardinals haven't allowed a touchdown in two straight games and are among the league leaders in scoring and total defense. They are allowing fewer than 200 passing yards per game, and while there are a lot of talented pieces in the secondary, Peterson is the engine.

For a guy with a cap hit of more than $13 million this season, it's still been money well spent.

"It takes a lot of stress off the rest of the guys," safety Tyrann Mathieu said. "We know Patrick can take out pretty much any receiver in the league, so it allows a coach to blitz more, to call more zone on the other side, to kind of let guys play football."

Images from past matchups between the Cardinals and Panthers

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