Dealing Cards: Patrick Peterson to square off with Julio Jones once again
TEMPE, Ariz. — In Week 13 of the 2014 NFL season, the Cardinals traveled to Atlanta to face a struggling Falcons team.
Julio Jones tore the visitors apart, catching 10 passes for 189 yards and one touchdown. Arizona’s Pro Bowl cornerback, Patrick Peterson, was no match for the wideout on that day.
Now, in Week 12 of the 2016 season, the Cardinals are heading down to Georgia again, and the duel between the pair of All-Pros is one to watch, and though Peterson has been battling the flu this week, he feels like he is ready for the matchup.
“I can’t miss this game for nothing in the world — I could care less, if I didn’t have a leg, I would try to find a way to get out on the field,” he said. “This game, it means a lot, to me, and it’s important to me, as well, to go out there and have a good game because Julio is the league’s best receiver right now.”
Peterson cited Jones’ performance last month in a win over the Carolina Panthers, in which he caught 12 passes for 300 yard and one touchdown, as evidence of what the sixth-year pro is capable of.
“So I have my hands full,” he added. “The guy is having an unbelievable career and season this year, and I have to make sure that I pay attention to all the keys throughout the game to make sure I can be at my best.”
The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Jones has caught 61 passes for 1,105 yards and five touchdowns this season. He is averaging a career-best 18.1 yards per reception, and has been targeted an average of 9.7 times per game.
Peterson is used to tracking the opponents’ best receivers; in fact, he relishes in the role. But unlike many games, in which his coverage usually leads to the ball rarely coming his way, he fully expects Falcons QB Matt Ryan to continue looking for his favorite target.
He had success doing so two years ago, as Peterson remembers.
“I don’t necessarily use it as motivation, (but) it was definitely was one of my worst games of my young NFL career,” he said. “It’s definitely something that stays with me, but I don’t worry about it too much because I know I have another opportunity to kind of, you know, I guess, redeem myself this Sunday.
“No pressure. This guy, he’s a great athlete, he’s a great receiver. I just have to make sure I do the things I’ve been doing all week in practice to put myself in the best position to help this team win this ball game.”
Arizona defensive coordinator James Bettcher cautioned against focusing only on Jones, noting that while he is a great receiver, the Falcons do a good job of distributing the ball to many playmakers.
While Jones leads the way in receptions and targets, fellow wideout Mohamed Sanu has caught 39 passes for 430 yards and three scores, while running backs Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman are also factors in the passing game. Tight end’s Jacob Tamme and Levine Toilolo have combined for five touchdown receptions, so they could contribute, too.
But in terms of Peterson vs. Jones, Bettcher is expecting a better outing from his player than the last time those players faced off.
“I think one, we all know where Pat was, health-wise, that year, and since then, Pat is playing the best football at his position in the National Football League,” he said. “And I can say that honestly; I’ve watched a lot of tape of defenses in the offseason, and there is no one doing what he does on a consistent basis, and I think that’s why it’s going to be a great matchup to watch.”
In 2014, you may recall, Peterson was dealing with diabetes, which caused him to gain weight and prevented him from feeling good most of the season. Since getting his health under control, the 26-year-old has reassumed his role as one of the game’s best cover corners.
Peterson said he definitely thinks he is a different player now than he was two years ago when Jones repeatedly burned him.
“I feel that I was there on some of those plays; I was just a little bit too heavy to get in the right position to make those plays,” he said. “At the cornerback position, you want to be as light as possible on your feet, and as quick as possible on your feet, to put yourself in position to throw off the timing of the route, and that’s what I didn’t do a good job of in 2014, is getting my hands on him at the line of scrimmage, throwing off the timing between him and his quarterback, and they took advantage of it.
“So hopefully I can do a better job at that and try to slow that combination down this year.”
The official injury report can be found here, and for the Cardinals, Thursday offered some good news and bad news.
On the good side, receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Brittan Golden as well as guard Mike Iupati, linebacker Kevin Minter, Peterson and QB Carson Palmer all returned to practice, at least in some capacity.
On the bad side, receiver Michael Floyd was added to the injury report with a hamstring injury that kept him out of practice, while linebacker Markus Golden showed up with an ankle injury. He was limited, however.
D.J. Humphries to the left?
Second-year Cardinal D.J. Humphries was a left tackle in college, but since joining the Cardinals the team has had him play on the right side.
However, due to injury and other circumstances, Arizona’s O-line is kind of in flux right now, and Humphries has been receiving a bit of work at left tackle in practice.
Is a move imminent?
“We’ll see,” offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. “Maybe, maybe not. We’ll see. But he is an athletic guy, he’s growing every week. He had some flubs last week on third down, especially in the red zone. But, he’s getting smarter. I don’t know what we’re going to do; we’ll see what happens on Sunday.”
Since left tackle Jared Veldheer went down with a season-ending injury in Week 8, John Wetzel has played left tackle. The team has expressed confidence in him, but with right guard Earl Watford limited in practice due to a shoulder injury, the team may feel like they are better off with him inside.
The decision to move Humphries down the line, if it is made, will not come lightly. After all, the team has spent the last couple seasons trying to get him comfortable and effective at right tackle.
“Kind of afraid to shake things up, but sometimes desperate measures, from the standpoint of depth and injuries, you’ve got to do desperate things,” Goodwin said. “Not necessarily desperate, but to make sure we’ve got the right five guys out there.
“I don’t know what we’re going to do. D.J.’s been doing a decent job at right (tackle), so maybe he’ll just stay there. But at the end of the day, I don’t care who’s out there, we’ve got to do a better job of protecting Carson.”
Making sure extra points happen
It was not an issue for the Cardinals last week, as Chandler Catanzaro connected on both of his PAT attempts, but one of the biggest storylines from the weekend of football was about how kickers were struggling to turn touchdowns into seven points.
In all, 12 extra points were missed Sunday. Some were affected by weather, and even though the line of scrimmage on PATs was moved from the 2-yard line to the 15-yard line before last season, according to USA Today’s Josh Peter, extra points are still being converted at a 93.9 percent clip since the change.
Catanzaro has made 24-of-25 PAT attempts this season after connecting on 53-of-58 last year. Cardinals special teams coordinator Amos Jones said his team learned how to handle the situation, while shedding light on why some kickers may struggle with their extra points while being money on field goals from the same distance.
“We learned last year, and we try to adhere to, is the delayed process of how long it takes them to put the ball in play,” he said. “I think that wares on the young guys, it wares sometimes on guys that can’t get back into a normal routine and make it become a normal kick, normal field goal scenario, because that’s what you have to do now with an extra point. It’s not a normal field goal.
“It’s a delayed process because a team has scored; if it’s a reviewable play, you don’t know how long that review is going to last. So, it’s a learning process. Learning process for us last year, learning process for us when we had the rookie snapper (Kameron Canaday), learning process now when we’ve got Aaron Brewer, so you’ve got to tie it all in together and you just hope we’re in a situation there where that process doesn’t take so dag gum long to say ‘touchdown.'”
Kickers, probably more than any other player on the field, are creatures of habit who like to stick with routines.
“We tried to learn last year from our mistakes, that it’s a process that you have to practice, process that you have to get used to,” Jones said. “So you try to make it as much of a same mentality as the field goals, at least that’s what we try to do. So the delayed process is there. Now, if it’s a hurried situation, that’s a different deal, you’ve just got to go kick.”