Getting crossed: Cardinals defense hopes to get struggles in traffic off tape

Oct 8, 2020, 6:40 PM | Updated: 7:02 pm
Cornerback Patrick Peterson #21 of the Arizona Cardinals walks on the field during the NFL game aga...
Cornerback Patrick Peterson #21 of the Arizona Cardinals walks on the field during the NFL game against the Detroit Lions at State Farm Stadium on September 27, 2020 in Glendale, Arizona. The Lions defeated the Cardinals 26-23. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Let’s go back to Oct. 27 of last year, when the Arizona Cardinals — fresh off a three-game winning streak — ran into a buzzsaw in New Orleans.

Arizona’s defense allowed Drew Brees to connect with receiver Michael Thomas 11 times out of 11 targets for 112 yards, and how he did that looked easy. As good as Thomas is, it was the Cardinals allowing him to take shallow underneath routes and turn upfield for a few yards at a time that grew repetitive.

So last Sunday in Carolina, it wasn’t surprising Panthers offensive coordinator Joe Brady, who from 2017-18 worked under Saints coach Sean Payton, hit Arizona with the same gameplan. Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson even made the Saints connection and suggested he’d see the same thing three days before their 31-21 loss.

Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph and Peterson both acknowledged Thursday that it’s a problem, something that the Cardinals must get off their film for a few weeks in a row. Otherwise, teams will keep attacking them the same way.

“We did see some crossers last week and we’ve seen crossers all year,” Joseph said. “When you’re in 3rd-and-short or 3rd-and medium and you play more man than zone, you’re going to see more crossers. We had some calls last week that we didn’t execute well that left Pat chasing. We’re aware of the issues of what teams are getting us.”

Pro Football Focus dinged Peterson for allowing five first downs and 70 yards. While the tape shows the man he lined up against often caught the ball, there’s a lot of nuance that’s being left out as teams attack him.

It’s not just a him problem.

“It just comes down to communication,” Peterson said. “Last week, expecting the safety to cut me, it was in the perfect call, it didn’t happen. If you look at it, nobody’s really attacking outside the numbers so it’s all condensed sets. It’s all me running through traffic, me having to avoid other people.”

Here, you can see Peterson attempting to communicate to linebacker De’Vondre Campbell that Panthers receiver Robby Anderson is about to cross into Campbell’s zone. But the ball got to the sit-down route quickly, and Anderson’s speed gets him away from Campbell.

Another time, Campbell looks like he’s there, but Panthers quarterback Teddy Bridgewater pin-points a pass for a completion.

On other plays, Peterson was simply wading through the weeds of Carolina receivers, plus Cardinals defensive backs and linebackers.

“Picks, rubs, crossers — that’s one of the main route concepts that we’re getting out of offenses,” Peterson said. “We just have to find a way to get up out of that, play a little bit more chess, where we’re not in a certain call for the most part of the game.

“I love the way coach is calling the game. It’s just, now we have to understand how teams are attacking us.”

The Cardinals through three weeks had widely won third downs, won in the red zone and tackled well. The defensive side of the ball views the loss to the Panthers as a down game in all three respects.

For the most part, Peterson said he likes that teams can’t attack them on the outside, and that’s helped Arizona limit big plays.

Playing a Joe Flacco-led New York Jets team might test them in that regard this week, but then again, the Cardinals know New York might just play copy-cat, attacking the middle of the field like everyone else of late.

“The last three weeks, I believe you can count on a finger how many times a times has thrown a ball up the sideline and completed it. It’s not happening,” Peterson said.

“Just have to find a better way of tail-piping, getting better leverage and finding a way to fight through traffic to put ourselves in the best position possible.”

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Getting crossed: Cardinals defense hopes to get struggles in traffic off tape