TEMPE, Ariz. — On one side will be Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson, and on the other Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson.
Peterson is a four-time Pro Bowler who is regarded as one of the best cover men in the game. Johnson has been to the NFL’s All-Star game five times, and has long been viewed as a dominant pass catcher.
Their matchup Sunday as the Cardinals visit the Lions is the type of in-game story line that excites fans and media alike. Just not coaches, apparently.
“I never like to look forward to seeing Calvin Johnson, but I’m glad we have Patrick,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said, with a laugh.
Fair enough, Coach.
However, whether Arians is happy to see the receiver whose nickname is “Megatron” or not, the fact is the Cardinals will have to find a way to contain him.
That task will fall largely on Peterson, just as it has in each of the last three seasons.
In 2012, Johnson finished with 10 receptions for 121 yards. In 2012, it was six catches for 116 yards and two touchdowns. Then, last season, he was held to 59 yards on five catches.
“A great matchup,” Peterson said of what’s in store for him. “It’s always intriguing to go up against Calvin Johnson. This will be my first time going out to Detroit to pay him a visit, but it’s going to be fun like it has been over the last two, three years.
“Can’t wait to get out there, just see what I’ve been working on so hard, what I have been preparing for so hard in the offseason for these caliber-type of receivers. Big, strong, physical and fast. So I can’t wait to see what my preparation is going to reveal on Sunday.”
They don’t get much bigger, stronger or faster than the 30-year-old Johnson, who comes in at 6-foot-5 and 239 pounds. He ran the 40-yard dash at 4.35 seconds coming out of Georgia Tech, and while he may not quite have those wheels these days, there is no doubting what he is still capable of.
“Calvin Johnson is Calvin Johnson,” said defensive lineman Cory Redding, who was a teammate of Johnson’s in 2007 and 2008. “I don’t care what they say. He still can beat you down the field, he can out-jump anybody and he’s still a heck of a player. In my mind, he’s still the same Calvin I saw his rookie year.”
Whether Johnson can be as dominant as he once was or not, as Peterson pointed out, Sunday will be a good test for him. The 25-year-old is off to a great start this season, with ProFootballFocus.com saying he has allowed just 85 receiving yards through four games, though that has come against teams who lacked a Johnson-like weapon. New Orleans’ Brandin Cooks has the speed, but not the size, while the Chicago Bears, San Francisco 49ers and St. Louis Rams all lacked a true No. 1 option.
In four games this season, Johnson has caught 27 passes for 255 yards and one touchdown. He has been targeted 47 times, so while the numbers may be a bit down, his role in Detroit’s offense has not changed.
“I think every time you play a special player like Calvin Johnson you’re always aware of where he’s at and what he’s doing,” Cardinals defensive coordinator James Bettcher said. “And how he’s doing and what he’s doing from different alignments and different motions. They do a nice job of moving him around on the field, so we’re certainly going to be aware of where he’s at on the field.”
And save for a couple of snaps, maybe, wherever Johnson is, you can expect Peterson to be right there with him.
The ability to put Peterson on a receiver like Johnson and trust he can contain him with little help is the reason why the Cardinals selected the cornerback fifth overall out of LSU in 2010, and it’s why they made him one of the highest paid players in the game last offseason. As Bettcher said, having a player who can essentially erase one player or even a big chunk of the field impacts the entire defense.
“It frees you up to maybe do some other stuff,” he said. “Maybe rotate a coverage or pay attention to some other guys that are on the field — and not that you’re trying to help other people — but you’re aware of where other people are on the field.”
While the Lions have struggled offensively so far in 2015, along with Johnson they have quarterback Matthew Stafford, receiver Golden Tate and running back Ameer Abdullah to worry about. Having the luxury of being able to assign Peterson to Johnson, as Bettcher said, allows the Cardinals to spend a little more energy working to stop them.
Call it the Peterson Effect?
“It’s always fun because you know other guys on their offense are going to have opportunities to make plays, obviously, with Pat checking him and Calvin’s history of being double-covered,” safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “So the rest of our unit, we have to be ready and prepared.”
If the Cardinals are to beat the Lions for the seventh consecutive time, there’s no doubt it won’t be all due to how Peterson fares against Johnson. But the spotlight will shine on his matchup, which is just the way the cornerback likes it.
“[Cornerbacks coach Kevin Ross] gave me an interesting stat,” Peterson said. “It’s like now, guys that are playing to get into Canton, it’s not all about the interceptions that you get — now it’s about what are you giving up in this day and age. So now, having the opportunity is a pleasure to go up against those guys because I know, nine times out of 10, I’m going to get the majority of the work.
“So when the ball comes my way I have to make the most of the opportunities. To have the opportunity to go up against top-notch players like Calvin Johnson, Antonio Brown (Peterson’s Week 6 opponent) is definitely a pleasure because I believe it’s just making the chances, for me, to increase that much better.”
Some stories for pre-game reading
CBSSports’ Ryan Wilson listed RB Chris Johnson as one of the best value signings of the offseason.
Bryan Gibberman writes that there is no need to panic following Arizona’s first loss of the season.
Cards running back Andre Ellington is ‘more than ready to go’ for Sunday’s game vs. the Lions.
As Craig Grialou reports, with Ellington back in the fold the Cardinals can now unveil a three-headed backfield monster.
The Cardinals were bummed over last week’s loss, yes, but were not interested in letting it linger.
Detroit may be 0-4, but that record means nothing to the Cardinals.
-The Cardinals have won six straight games against the Lions, which is their longest such streak against any opponent. Only one of those games — in 2009 — was played in Detroit.
-If the Cardinals score six points Sunday they will set a franchise record for points in the first five games of a season. The previous high is 153, which was achieved in 1965.
-The Cardinals have run for at least 110 yards in each of their first four games. Doing so Sunday would mark the first time they’ve done it in their first five games to start a season since 1988. It’s worth noting that the Cardinals rushed for 100 or more yards — as a team — just six times last season.
-QB Carson Palmer is 318 passing yards away from establishing a new club record for passing yards in the first five games of a season. The current high is held by Kurt Warner, who threw for 1,472 in the first five games of the 2008 season.
-With two receptions Sunday WR Larry Fitzgerald will pass Art Monk for 17th place on the NFL’s all-time receptions list. He’s five catches away from passing Derrick Mason for 16th place, and six catches away from moving by Steve Smith (who currently plays for the Baltimore Ravens) for 15th place.