Patrick Peterson’s first game in the NFL, which came on Sept. 11, 2011, will be remembered for his game-winning 89-yard punt return in the fourth quarter of Arizona’s 28-21 win.
But while the cornerback shined in the return game, he struggled mightily in coverage.
Fellow rookie Cam Newton torched Peterson and the Cardinals’ secondary to the tune of 422 yards and two touchdowns. He found receiver Steve Smith eight times for 178 yards and both scores, one of which came despite Peterson’s coverage.
Needless to say Peterson has improved since then. Coming off a game in Tampa where he intercepted two passes and earned NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors, the former LSU star is now considered to be one of the best cover corners in the NFL.
Set to face Newton, Smith and the Panthers again this Sunday, the third-year pro said the game brings no extra motivation to the table.
“Obviously we want to go out there and win a game, but I’m treating this game just like any other game,” he said. “We want to go out there and play well as a defense and ultimately get the W.”
Peterson, like the rest of the Cardinals, understands that the Panthers present some pretty difficult choices as far as what to focus on. One one hand you have Newton, who can air the ball out to guys like Smith, Ted Ginn and Greg Olsen, but then there’s also the running game featuring Newton and veteran back DeAngelo Williams.
Though inconsistent, the weapons are there.
“It’s kind of pick your poison with those guys,” defensive coordinator Todd Bowles said. “We really got to do a good job of studying.”
Peterson, who will likely spend most of the afternoon shadowing Smith, said he believes the Cardinals have the necessary pieces to slow down a potentially potent offense.
But for Peterson, who has spent the last few weeks matching up with big receivers like Calvin Johnson, Marques Colston, Jimmy Graham and Vincent Jackson, the 5-foot-9 Smith presents a different, if somewhat familiar, challenge. The 34-year-old has caught 14 passes for 143 yards and one touchdown this season, and is still one of the game’s more dangerous wideouts.
“Steve Smith is a shifty guy, especially at the line of scrimmage,” Peterson said. “It’s hard to get your hands on him.
“I’ve respected his game for many, many years, but I think that I’m more than prepared and ready to go Sunday than I was two years ago.”