Patrick Peterson: The Numbers, The Tape, The Verdict 2014

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It’s easy to forget that Patrick Peterson is just 23 years of age. The Arizona Cardinals cornerback will already be entering his fourth season in the NFL next season, by which time he will have turned 24. Even at 24 years of age, Peterson is still a very young player and an exceptionally young veteran starter.

Few people still see Peterson on the same level as Richard Sherman or Darrelle Revis, but his physical talent will always make him a fascinating player to evaluate.

Like many cornerbacks that preceded him, Peterson is an exceptional kick returner. He has the straight-line speed and agility to make defenders miss in space and outrun others to the end zone. Those physical traits combined with his 6’1″, 219 pound frame makes him one of the most impressive athletes in the league.

Unfortunately for the Cardinals, athleticism isn’t everything…

Explaining the Process

Qualifying Plays:
Plays that count:

  • Every snap that has the cornerback in man coverage no matter where the ball is thrown.
  • The above includes sacks, quarterback scrambles and plays where the defensive back has safety help.

Plays that don’t count:

  • Screen plays. Even if the receiver isn’t part of the screen, these plays do not count.
  • Plays where either the receiver or cornerback doesn’t follow through his whole assignment.
  • Zone plays. Any ambiguity in this area will disqualify a play.
  • Any prevent coverage situations.
  • Receptions in the flat without a route run.
  • Running plays(duh!). Including designed quarterback runs.

Failed Coverages:

The ball does not have to be thrown in the defensive back’s direction for the coverage to fail. This is NOT an alysis of how many completions the cornerback allowed, that can be found elsewhere, this is an analysis of how good his coverage is on any given play.

Failed coverages can come at any point of the route, but it is subjective to where the players are on the field in relation to the quarterback. Typically, defensive backs must be within arms reach for underneath/intermediate routes. On deeper passes, there is greater leeway given to the defender.

Failed coverages can be subjective. They must be determined by the situation considering the length of the play and other such variables.

Shut Down:

This category is reserved for those plays when receivers would have to make superhuman catches to beat the coverage. The best example of this is when receivers line up wide and try to run down the sideline, but the defensive back gradually guides them towards the sideline, suffocating the space they have to catch the football in. If a receiver is on the white sideline, he is shut down.

In Position:

This is the opposite of a failed coverage. In order to be ‘In Position’, a defensive back has to be in a position to prevent a relatively well-thrown pass to his assignment.

 

Individual Matchups

This chart examines how Peterson fared against specific receivers. Only those with four qualifying snaps in man coverage were included in this chart.

No.

Player

Successful Snaps/Coverage Snaps

Percentage

1 Kenny Stills 4/4 100%
2 Tony Gonzalez 4/4 100%
3 Jermaine Kearse 7/8 88%
4 Cecil Shorts 7/8 88%
5 Marques Colston 6/7 86%
6 Drew Davis 5/6 83%
7 Andre Johnson 18/23 78%
8 Desean Jackson 10/13 77%
9 Anquan Boldin 9/12 75%
10 T.Y. Hilton 6/8 75%
11 LaVon Brazil 3/4 75%
12 Kyle Williams 3/4 75%
13 Nate Washington 5/7 71%
14 Golden Tate 15/23 65%
15 Steve Smith 11/17 65%
16 Calvin Johnson 11/17 65%
17 Michael Crabtree 5/8 63%
18 Chris Givens 8/13 62%
19 Vincent Jackson 9/16 56%
20 Kendall Wright 4/11 36%

 

Weekly Breakdown

Week 1: St. Louis Rams
Total Qualifying Plays: 16
Failed Coverages: 4
Shutdowns: 1
In Position: 11

Peterson’s first game of the season was fairly routine. He was beaten four times by Chris Givens, but not on any egregious coverages or for any big plays. The Rams’ inability to run the ball made it easier for the whole of the Cardinals secondary.

Week 2: Detroit Lions
Total Qualifying Plays: 18
Failed Coverages: 7
Shutdowns: 1
In Position: 10

Peterson followed Calvin Johnson around the field in this game.

Calvin finished with six receptions for 116 yards and two touchdowns. Both of those touchdowns came against Peterson. The first was a mental error. Calvin ran a slant route from the slot right in front of Peterson who was initially in a good position to contact the receiver as the ball arrived.

Peterson allowed himself to be distracted by a linebacker flashing underneath the slant route and he stopped in no man’s land because of that. Calvin kept running with the football for a huge touchdown reception.

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This momentary lapse is something that didn’t happen consistently throughout this game, but it was an aspect of Peterson’s season as a whole.

Against Calvin specifically, Peterson’s greatest problem was the same problem he had when the pair faced off in 2012. He still can’t compete with the receiver’s strength. Very few defensive backs can compete with Calvin’s physical presence, Richard Sherman and Charles Tillman in recent seasons come to mind, but Peterson should be able to bother the receiver with his length.

Peterson isn’t an aggressive defensive back though. He can’t consistently get tight to receivers and battle them for position, run shoulder-to-shoulder through breaks in routes or fight for jump balls in the air.

For Johnson’s second touchdown, the Lions executed perfectly and it was always going to be a tough assignment for Peterson, but the play also showed off the defensive back’s tentativeness.

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Peterson is lined up in the slot, across from Calvin, and the Cardinals are playing man coverage.

The Lions have the perfect play called and they execute it perfectly so Peterson would likely never have a chance at disrupting the pass regardless of what he did. However, it needs to be noted that Peterson was very slow to get outside of the pick because of how he approached the play.

He didn’t looked to close the space on Calvin at the snap by moving forward. Instead he reacted to the receiver’s movements while keeping his momentum back. Peterson turned with Calvin initially, but he was very slow to recognize the pick play. That made his movement very laborious as he conceded more ground instead of aggressively shuffling his feet to run to the pylon.

Calvin Johnson has it easy against most defensive backs. The best defensive backs in the league at least force him to work hard for his production. Peterson didn’t do that and he hasn’t done that throughout his career to this point.

Week 3: New Orleans Saints
Total Qualifying Plays: 17
Failed Coverages: 3
Shutdowns: 1
In Position: 13

Peterson rebounded well from his poor outing against Calvin Johnson in Week 3 against the Saints. The Saints’ receivers haven’t shown up well against anyone in these cornerback evaluations this season. Outside of Jimmy Graham, there wasn’t really a receiving threat who could take on the more athletic cornerbacks in the NFL.

Robert Meachem is much too slow at this stage. Lance Moore’s quickness is also fading. Marques Colston never relied on his speed and that shows up too often. Kenny Stills was primarily the only player on the field with the speed to threaten the defense vertically, but he is still a relatively raw route runner.

Peterson was very impressive until his final qualifying play of the game, his first qualifying play against Graham.

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As we can see above, Peterson doesn’t square up against Graham when he moves towards the line of scrimmage before the snap. This gives Graham a free inside release. To worsen matters, Peterson is looking at the quarterback to start the play when the Cardinals are sending a blitz that leaves every defensive back in a one-on-one situation.

Peterson doesn’t move forward to close the space on Graham as soon as the tight end moves inside. Graham is too quick for him and Peterson must recover ground after dropping his feet backwards at the snap.

In other words, Peterson beat himself on this play.

Week 4: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Total Qualifying Plays: 17
Failed Coverages: 8
Shutdowns: 2
In Position: 7

The frustrating thing about Peterson’s inability to play physical coverage on a consistent basis is what he is capable of when he does match the receiver’s strength.

Vincent Jackson got the better of Peterson on the whole, but Peterson came away with two interceptions. One of those interceptions came in man coverage against Jackson, while the other came in zone. The notable aspect of the man coverage interception is that he played tight to Jackson’s body throughout the route.

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This physical coverage style allowed him to show off his ball skills to jump in front of the receiver.

It’s important to note that Jackson didn’t make a hard cut in his route, so it was easier for Peterson to be physical. However, even at the line of scrimmage when Jackson looked to release, it was immediately clear that Peterson’s footwork was what it should be. Peterson never took himself away from Jackson and worked his feet perfectly to react to the poorly thrown football.

Peterson’s explosion could be seen at the end of this play, but it was his precise footwork that allowed him to create the turnover.

It may be unlikely that Peterson is ever able to be as physical as a Richard Sherman, Stephon Gilmore or Charles Tillman, but he doesn’t necessarily have to play that style to be a top corner. Much like Darrelle Revis, Peterson can excel mirroring defenders and using his ball skills to break on the ball.

However, he can’t be bullied at any point of the route if he is to be successful with that style.

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Fluidity and footwork are vital when trying to battle a bigger receiver. Upper body strength helps also, but it’s the ability to reset and stay in position after being beaten that really matters. Peterson is able to do that perfectly on this play even though Jackson knocks him inside at the beginning of this route.

Week 5: Carolina Panthers
Total Qualifying Plays: 21
Failed Coverages: 9
Shutdowns: 6
In Position: 6

This was a fascinating game for Peterson. He spent most of his time covering Steve Smith, a receiver who is well past his prime and doesn’t have anywhere near the physical talent of Peterson at this stage of his career. Smith didn’t have a great all-around game, because of a few drops, but he badly exposed Peterson.

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At the end of the first drive of the game for the Panthers offense, Smith comes free on a pick play at the goal line. Again, just like the Lions game, this pick play isn’t something that is easily handled for a defensive back. That is why offenses run them so much.

However, Peterson doesn’t put himself in the best position to defend this play. He almost comes to a complete stop when he sees the pick coming instead of trying to quickly work his way past the incoming receiver. Had he been more aggressive with Smith at the line and not opened his body sideways, then he would either have been picked off in an obvious offensive pass interference situation for the officials or he would have been in a better position to cover Smith.

Smith’s inability to adjust to a pass that was behind him saves Peterson’s blushes.

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On the first play of the very next drive, Smith beats Peterson with ease on a slant route. Peterson lets Smith run past his outside shoulder because he isn’t aggressive enough and he takes one big step with his left foot that is unnecessary.

Smith drops a perfectly thrown pass this time, so again Peterson’s blushes are saved through none of his own efforts.

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Peterson did have an interception in the second quarter when he showed off perfect coverage down the sideline. He not only takes space away from Smith with his initial positioning, he is then very quick to turn his head and recognize the flight of the football. Peterson has outstanding hands, so he is able to naturally pluck the ball out of the air.

A somewhat unfair aspect of being a cornerback in the NFL is that you can’t simply rely on one great play, yet you can be condemned for one big mistake. It’s not like the receiver position where you have one or two big plays and take a number of snaps off.

Cornerbacks need to be effective consistently throughout the game. This wasn’t the case for Peterson against the Panthers.

He started poorly, as shown by the plays against Steve Smith but also a play against Greg Olsen down the seam when he was caught watching the quarterback too long at the snap again. He finished in even worse fashion. Peterson played with no urgency during the fourth quarter and repeatedly allowed Smith to get away from him and Ted Ginn even beat him on a comeback route.

Week 6:  San Francisco 49ers
Total Qualifying Plays: 16
Failed Coverages: 4
Shutdowns: 2
In Position: 10

Being tasked with containing Anquan Boldin puts the focus on your physicality at the catch point. Boldin doesn’t create separation from athletic cornerbacks very often, so he needs to outmuscle and outfight defenders for the football.

Peterson showed up relatively well in a game when he wasn’t tested that much.

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Week 7: Seattle Seahawks
Total Qualifying Plays: 17
Failed Coverages: 7
Shutdowns: 2
In Position: 8

An aspect of Peterson’s game that repeatedly was on show during the second half of the season was his attempts at jamming receivers on the line.

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Against Jermaine Kearse, the inexperienced third/fourth option for the Seahawks, Peterson was able to initiate contact and take away his space on a sideline route. Kearse never looked to fight Peterson for position, instead he just ran where Peterson guided him to.

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On the other hand, Golden Tate, a more refined and experienced receiver, was able to easily knock Peterson’s jam attempt aside to release into his route. Peterson’s technique with receivers at the line of scrimmage is consistently poor.

He only ever extends his outside arm to make contact with the receiver and his corresponding foot always follows with the other one trailing behind. This makes it easy for receivers to swim to the outside or simply release inside.

This game showed off a lot of who Peterson is at this stage of his career. He was able to overwhelm the less refined receiver Jermaine Kearse, while he went back and forth with Golden Tate throughout the game.

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Week 8: Atlanta Falcons
Total Qualifying Plays: 13
Failed Coverages: 1
Shutdowns: 0
In Position: 12

Save for one play where Peterson’s poor footwork caught him on his heels against an in route, Peterson had a good game against a somewhat overwhelmed offense. The Falcons’ passing game was accelerated by the Cardinals’ pass rush so there was less pressure on the team’s secondary as a whole.

Week 10: Houston Texans
Total Qualifying Plays: 28
Failed Coverages: 7
Shutdowns: 4
In Position: 17

Much like Calvin Johnson did earlier in the season, Andre Johnson put on a show against Peterson. Peterson didn’t necessarily play poorly against Andre, the receiver just made too many excellent plays. One play should haunt  Peterson though, as he tipped a jump ball into the air to give Johnson an easy touchdown reception that could potentially have been an interception.

That play was simply a case of Peterson mistiming his jump.

As a zone cornerback, Peterson is generally reliable. He doesn’t have exceptional agility and he doesn’t anticipate where the quarterback will throw the ball. His positioning and awareness of receivers around him is good, but he did make a handful of concentration errors.

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More often than not, those mistakes come when he fails to take his eyes off of the first receiver that occupies his attention.

Week 11: Jacksonville Jaguars
Total Qualifying Plays: 8
Failed Coverages: 1
Shutdowns: 0
In Position: 7

Peterson only covered Cecil Shorts in this game. Because of the Jaguars’ quick passing game, there were very few opportunities for Shorts and Peterson to go against each other.

Week 12: Indianapolis Colts
Total Qualifying Plays: 15
Failed Coverages: 4
Shutdowns: 2
In Position: 9

On more than one occasion, T.Y. Hilton, a diminutive receiver, appeared to outmuscle Peterson coming out of his breaks. This reinforces the idea that strength isn’t Peterson’s main concern, but rather his footwork and balance is.

Week 13: Philadelphia Eagles
Total Qualifying Plays: 16
Failed Coverages: 3
Shutdowns: 2
In Position: 11

The recently departed Desean Jackson endured an excellent battle with Peterson in this game. Jackson lost Peterson with his straight-line speed and an excellent route on different occasions, while also fading to the sideline from the slot.

Overall though, Peterson was able to contain Jackson and should have had a potentially result-altering interception late in the fourth quarter. Peterson showed off excellent awareness and good ball skills, but the play was negated for a seemingly non-existent pas interference penalty against Tyrann Mathieu.

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Week 14: St. Louis Rams
Total Qualifying Plays: 7
Failed Coverages: 3
Shutdowns: 1
In Position: 3

Peterson made a very poor start to this game.

He was caught on his heels against a Tavon Austin curl route at the start of the game. After that he ran right through Chris Givens for an obvious penalty in the open field before another failed jam attempt at the line allowed Givens to run free on a crossing route.

Week 15: Tennessee Titans
Total Qualifying Plays: 23
Failed Coverages: 11
Shutdowns: 0
In Position: 12

Kendall Wright may be the quickest route runner in the NFL right now. Peterson is a player who wastes movement and struggles with his footwork through breaks. It was an inevitability that Wright would get the better of Peterson. He repeatedly came free throughout the game and there was little Peterson could do about it.

Peterson also gave up one big play to Nate Washington.

Week 16: Seattle Seahawks
Total Qualifying Plays: 19
Failed Coverages: 4
Shutdowns: 0
In Position: 15

Peterson spent most of his time battling Tate again, but this time he had more success. Peterson played with greater urgency and more precise footwork to stick to Tate through routes.

Week 17: San Francisco 49ers
Total Qualifying Plays: 9
Failed Coverages: 3
Shutdowns: 3
In Position: 3

It was somewhat of a fitting finish to the season for Peterson, because on at least three occasions he lost his footing.

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Peterson’s 2013 NFL Season Total:
Total qualifying plays: 260
Failed coverages: 79
Shutdowns: 27
In Position: 154
Success rate for the season: 69.6%

Results at Spots
Qualifying Plays at left cornerback: 113
Failed coverages at left cornerback: 32
Success Rate at left cornerback: 72%

Qualifying Plays at right cornerback: 104
Failed coverages at right cornerback: 29
Success Rate at right cornerback: 72%

Qualifying Plays in the slot: 43
Failed coverages in the slot: 18
Success Rate in the slot: 58%

Results versus Routes
Percentage is Success Rate. Number of routes is in brackets.

1. Seam 88% (17)
2. Sideline 87% (63)
3. Post 78% (9)
4. Out 67% (30)
5. Slant 66% (35)
6. Curl 65% (23)
7. Double Move 63% (19)
8. Crossing 61% (23)
9. In 55% (29)
10. Comeback 53% (15)

The Verdict

It’s clear that Patrick Peterson still needs to develop to be considered one of the very best cornerbacks in the NFL. He obviously intimidates quarterbacks because of his impressive ball skills and the potential for any interception to quickly turn into a touchdown in the other direction, but his coverage skills leave a lot to be desired still.

Footwork is the key. With more precise, quick footwork, Peterson will be able to get the most out of his physical talent.

His age is also very important to note. At just 24 next season, he should still be developing despite starting for his fourth successive season. In 2012, Peterson successfully covered receivers on 62 percent of his qualifying man coverage snaps.

The addition of Antonio Cromartie and the uncertainty surrounding Tyrann Mathieu entering next season suggests that Peterson will continue to work all over the field. Cromartie isn’t a slot cornerback and Mathieu tore his ACL late in the 2013 season. Peterson isn’t ideally suited to playing inside, as his final numbers on the season show, but the more exposure he gets in those situations the more he will need to focus on improving his footwork.

Therefore, it could be a blessing-in-disguise for the long term.

 

You can follow Cian on twitter @Cianaf

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