Analysis Notebook: Week 10
You often hear people tell you that Patrick Peterson is a shutdown corner, one of the league’s best, capable of shadowing an elite receiver and taking him out of the game. The Cardinals have certainly always bought into the hype. From his rookie season they have been one of the few teams around the league that asked their top corner to track a receiver, moving from left to right and even to slot corner in an attempt to neutralize an offense’s most potent weapon. Darrelle Revis turned that into an art form with the Jets, but very few teams do it — even Revis isn’t being asked to anymore in Tampa Bay. The problem is that Peterson never really justified the hype or the added responsibilities heaped upon him. While Revis in his pomp would put up league-leading numbers while taking away the best receiver the opposition had to offer, Peterson was often exposed.
The thing is though, he is capable of games that justify it. His performance against Andre Johnson and the Houston Texans was one of those games that makes you see the light, showing what he is capable of.
Johnson might be the best receiver in football still. Calvin Johnson has the hype, numbers, and the most fearsome physique of any receiver in the league, but Andre Johnson does a lot of things better than Megatron, and is in my eyes a more complete receiver. The point of this isn’t to get into a debate on receivers, but simply to make the point that Peterson in this game did his best work against the top receiver in the league.
The Texans under Case Keenum have been a different offense, willing to throw the ball more to their star receiver and give him a chance to make plays. They did the same thing in this game, and Johnson yet again made them look smart for doing so. But for all the targets (he was thrown at a dozen times), he was able to make only five catches for 37 yards. Peterson was in man coverage on the big receiver for nine of those 12 targets, passing him off only when the Cardinals ran zone or the Texans put him in motion before the play to the other side of the field, possibly to try and take him away from the attention of Peterson.
He surrendered four catches for 33 yards, and two of those catches were utterly spectacular plays by the receiver:
He demonstrated the kind of shutdown skills that people have been raving about for some time, but all too often we don’t actually see. On anything short he was in close attendance, aided by the Cardinals’ pass rush pressuring Keenum to get the ball out before he wanted regularly. On five of the 12 targets to Johnson, Keenum was under pressure as he threw the ball, hurried into making a pass before he would have wanted. That certainly factored into the lack of completions, but even if the ball had been well thrown and on time, Peterson was more often than not in excellent position.
Only once was he definitively beaten for any kind of lengthy gain, on a comeback route down the left sideline. The Cardinals were ostensibly running a Cover-3 shell on the play, but the safety completely abandoned the deep middle to help out on the other side, leaving Peterson completely isolated on an island with Johnson in off-coverage. The route was perfect, eating up the cushion quickly and then slamming on the brakes, cutting back toward the sideline and away from Peterson, opening up a few yards of separation for the pass. For a receiver of his size one of the most impressive parts of Johnson’s route running is how quickly he can cut and stop at full speed.
On all other attempts though Peterson was tough to shake. Even when Johnson beat him, it was by a matter of inches.
Take this first deep shot as an example. This is about as well as a route can be run, and though he did manage to gain a slight edge on Peterson, the coverage was so tight all the way through that the window the ball had to hit was so small it was asking an incredible amount from everybody involved to make the play. In the end the ball made it through to the receiver but he couldn’t make the adjustment and bring it in.
Against press coverage Johnson wants to get the corner to open up in the wrong direction so he can release to the outside. He gave a hard fake to the inside, which is just enough to get Peterson to open his hips and skip backward to try and take away the slant. He recovered extremely quickly though and was able to turn and run with Johnson only a fraction behind the receiver. This initial move though was enough to get by and ensure that at least Johnson had the leverage advantage on the play and would be favorite to get to a well-thrown ball first.
He extended the advantage a little bit with some subtle hand-fighting, giving his quarterback a small window to try and fit the football, but he couldn’t shake Peterson, who remained in tight trail position all the way through the play.
In the end that close attention and the safety coming over the top caused the ball to be thrown too far toward the sideline for Johnson to be able to adjust and bring it in, and it went just through his hands for an incompletion.
Compare that play to another deep shot later in the game, where it was Peterson this time that won the leverage battle and gave Keenum no place to put the football. In the previous play it was a slight misstep off the line from Peterson that allowed Johnson to gain a fraction of space and win on his release, but he wasn’t fooled a second time.
This time Johnson couldn’t get the space he needed to win off the line, and Peterson never allowed him to get on top of him, winning physically and placing his body between Johnson and where he wanted to go. As they ran down field he squeezed the route toward the sideline and gave Keenum just a sliver of ground to try and put the football. This was textbook technique and athleticism from a corner against a formidable opponent.
Peterson definitively won the battle between the two when it came to running routes, and it was only a pair of spectacular plays from Johnson that came close to evening the score between them. We have already seen the adjustment Johnson made for his second touchdown above, but his first was just as impressive. Running a drag across the formation in the red zone, he was again shadowed closely by Peterson, but a perfect pass allowed him the chance to make the play anyway.
He extended to catch the ball at the very edge of his catch radius, actually needing to kill it with just one hand a fraction before bringing it in with two. From there he was able to drag his second foot before flying out of the end zone for the score.
Though Peterson was in pretty close coverage on the play, this was a great example of the perfect throw and an unplayable effort from the receiver defeating any coverage there is. It took plays like this from Keenum and Johnson to get any joy against Peterson in this game, and he can count himself extremely unlucky to have surrendered a pair of touchdowns. Overall he demonstrated an elite level of shutdown play that we haven’t seen too often from him in the past, and he did it against the best the league has to offer.
This is the Patrick Peterson that some people have been hyping since Day 1, which begs the question: If he can do it in this game, against this opposition, why can’t he do it consistently every other week?
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