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ESPN lists Peterson, Mathieu as two of the best defensive backs in the NFL

Arizona Cardinals free safety Tyrann Mathieu (32) celebrates a Tampa Bay Buccaneers turn over during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

The Arizona Cardinals boast a tandem of exceptional defensive backs in Tyrann Mathieu and Patrick Peterson, and ESPN dished out accolades for both of them.

Matt Bowen made a list of the best NFL defensive backs in specific categories in an ESPN Insider article. The first Cardinal Bowen mentioned was Mathieu, as he was dubbed the most versatile player in the secondary.

Injuries have limited Mathieu’s playing time and production, including one to his knee in 2015 and one to his shoulder this season. But when he’s healthy, his versatility is off the charts — run, tackle, blitz, play the ball, cover. Mathieu can play in the slot. He can align outside of the numbers, roll to the deep middle of the field with his range or drop down into the box. He hits, too. This cat can do it all.

He has made a living causing havoc in the slot, but due to his knee injury, it has been a process for him to get back to where he once was. He played the first four games of the season in the traditional free safety position before he was able to play in the slot in Week 5 against the San Francisco 49ers. Despite playing in his normal hybrid role, he hasn’t been the same player. After missing the Cardinals’ last game with his shoulder injury though, he is expected to play on Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings.

According to head coach Bruce Arians, it’s up to Mathieu if it’s time for the knee brace to come off, as it was originally thought it would come off around this time. But so far there is no indication on whether or not that’s going to happen.

Nevertheless, with Mathieu out there in his normal roll, his presence alone will make an impact.

From a game-plan perspective, Mathieu has developed into the ultimate defensive chess piece. He consistently impacts how opposing teams game-plan for the Cardinals. He’s really the future of defensive football, in my opinion. As offenses continue to spread out, DBs like Mathieu who can do a little bit of everything will continue to increase in value.

Mathieu has one interception, three pass break-ups and 27 tackles this season, and is undoubtedly a top-tier safety.

Unable to pick just one player as the best press-coverage cornerback in the league, Bowen picked both Peterson and Richard Sherman.

How do you pick between Sherman and Peterson? Both need to be in this discussion because of their ability to win at the line of scrimmage. Remember, this isn’t about grading the best overall player at the position; we’re simply discussing press-man technique.

In Bowen’s eyes, Sherman was given the edge in using his length to take control of the receivers’ routes. Peterson was complimented on having the better footwork, as he possess great agility and rarely gets turned around. As everyone has seen this year — and in previous years — receivers who are matched up against the Cardinals’ All-Pro usually have unproductive games.

But the key here is that both cornerbacks are going to physically challenge the release and force opposing receivers to work. You’re not getting a free pass, a free run up the sideline. And when receivers eventually get into the route stem, these cornerbacks are going to be on the hip. They both do a great job of pinning receivers to the sideline on the fade (eliminate the path to the ball) and squeezing down on any inside breaking route.

Peterson has two interceptions, three pass deflections and 26 tackles in what looks to be another All-Pro season

Tony Jefferson just missed out on being the third Cardinal on the list, as he was named honorable mention in the category for best safety in run support. The safety that was picked was the Ravens’ Eric Weddle.

The 24-year-old Jefferson was undrafted coming out of Oklahoma, and he has been a key cog in the Cardinals’ defense. In his fourth season, Jefferson is having a breakout year, as he leads the team with 55 solo tackles. He also has contributed a sack, two forced fumbles and two pass deflections.

The Cardinals sport the second-best total-defense in the league, and those three guys in the secondary have a huge role in the team’s success.

 

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