TEMPE, Ariz. Patrick Peterson admits that he was pressing last Sunday against the Miami Dolphins. He was out of his comfort zone. The game was moving -- get this -- too fast!
I was trying to make too much happen against my hometown team, said Peterson, who is from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. That was huge for me. I just wanted to make a play happen so bad. I had all of my family here. It was a nationally televised game shown back home, so there was a lot on the table.
Which helps explain why Peterson did something special teams coach Kevin Spencer has never seen him do. The sure-handed, punt-returning nightmare muffed a ball that he quickly fell on top of at the Arizona 25-yard line midway through the second quarter.
I wasnt focusing on the fundamentals of catching the ball, securing the ball and things like that. I just wasnt dialed in, Peterson said. It felt like I was rushing. I wasnt calm.
Peterson vowed Wednesday that hed never let that happen again even if he isnt getting the opportunities he had last season when he tied an NFL record with four punt returns for touchdowns as a rookie. The Cardinals are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. They know what Peterson can bring to the return game.
Just as important, they are getting a good sense of what he can do as a cornerback and what teams are unwilling to do against him.
In the Cardinals signature win of the season, a 20-18 win over New England in Foxborough, Mass., Patriots QB Tom Brady threw only six balls in Petersons direction. Two were completed.
Before the Miami game, Pro Football Focus had Peterson allowing just 0.38 yards per snap in coverage, the lowest number of any cornerback with at least 100 coverage snaps. The longest pass completed to a player Peterson was covering was 16 yards. That, despite the fact that Peterson has seen the likes of Seattles Sidney Rice, New Englands Brandon Lloyd, Philadelphias DeSean Jackson and now will likely defend the player with the second-most receptions in the NFL (31), Danny Amendola, when the Cards take on the Rams on Thursday night in St. Louis.
Ive said it from probably Week 4 or 5 (of last season) that he has the potential to be the best defensive player in the league, Cards defensive coordinator Ray Horton said. Not just the best defensive back in the league, but the best defensive player in the league.
Anybody whos been around Peterson for any length of time knows he has the drive.
Hes unique in his athletic abilities, but hes still extremely competitive and accountable for everything he does, Cards defensive backs coach Louie Cioffi said. He works very hard at getting better at his craft. The kid is amazing that way.
Theres also an aura about Peterson that only emanates from the truly great athletes. Its a supreme confidence that never strays into arrogance; a calm and time-tested understanding that you are every bit as good as people say you are.
Patrick Peterson has a swag about himself, defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said. He should because hes a hell of a player.
Peterson struggled in his rookie season at cornerback. He wasnt allowed to play the physical brand of ball he had grown accustomed to because officials hadnt grown accustomed to him. Multiple pass interference calls forced him to re-evaluate somewhat, but the biggest obstacle was learning the complexities of Hortons system, knowing where to look and where to be.
So Cioffi gave him some film to study in the offseason. Some of the players on that film were guys youd expect, like Jets star cornerback Darrelle Revis. But others were under-the-radar guys like Cincinnati Bengals corner Leon Hall, who Cioffi had worked with as a Bengals assistant.
Im a big technique guy, Cioffi said. When everything else breaks down, all you have to fall back on is your technique, and Hall is really a master technician. When you play with pretty good technique, usually youre in position to make plays. And when you have a guy with Patricks athletic ability added on, hes going to make plays nine times out of 10.
Petersons work habits have always helped speed his progress, but there was another factor driving him this year that had nothing to do with his physical tools, his work ethic or the Cardinals coaching staff. When Peterson went the Pro Bowl last season, he spent a lot of time around Packers corner Charles Woodson, Bears corner Charles Tillman and Seattle safeties Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas.
He saw the way those elite players carried themselves. He saw the way those elite players approached the game. And he wanted what they had.
It definitely motivated me to not only get back to the Pro Bowl, but to get back as a cornerback, Peterson said. Thats a different level there. Those guys are the best of the best.
Cornerback might be his only route back to Honolulu, given the dearth of opportunities hes getting as a punt returner.
People arent going to kick the ball down the middle of the field to him anymore, Spencer said. Hes a known quantity. Youd be very foolish to do that.
But Peterson insists he is ready for that step.
Im definitely getting into the groove, knowing how teams want to attack me, he said. The game has really slowed down for me this year and in the back half of last year. Knowing where youre supposed to be really helps make things a lot a lot -- smoother.
As for the possibility of complacency setting in, Peterson shakes his head vigorously at the thought.
I dont see it as a danger. I want to continue to be the best, he said. Besides, I wont ever get complacent because, one, my coach wont let me and two, the players wont let me. Ive got great guys around me pushing me to be the best I can be.
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