Why Arizona Cardinals CB Patrick Peterson Is Worthy of 2012 Pro Bowl Vote

Shaun Church@@NFLChurchContributor IJanuary 1, 2013

Many fans of the Arizona Cardinals have questioned the worthiness of star cornerback Patrick Peterson’s vote into the 2012 Pro Bowl.

Not only is that claim unwarranted, but for fans to speak of a player on their favorite team in such a manner without knowing what they are talking about is feeble-minded and shows a primitive understanding of football.

Today you all will learn why Peterson deserves his spot on the NFC’s Pro Bowl roster and why he should be a starter rather than a backup to the Chicago Bears’ Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman.

Peterson had seven interceptions this season.

Since this was his second season in the NFL, I looked at sophomore defensive backs since the 1978 season—the season in which the league expanded from 14 to 16 games.

This begins your education on Peterson’s 2012 season.

The record for interceptions by a second-year defensive back is 10, set by Antonio Cromartie in 2007 while with the San Diego Chargers. In 2001, Denver Broncos CB Deltha O’Neal picked off nine passes, and since 1985, eight players—ranging from the Indianapolis Colts’ Eugene Daniel (’85) to the Seattle Seahawks' Richard Sherman this year—intercepted eight passes during season No. 2.

Then, there’s Peterson and a host of 10 other players who notched seven.

See the full list at ProFootballReference.com.

Following a record-setting rookie season of 2011 as a punt returner, Peterson was chosen as the NFC’s return man at the Pro Bowl. He took four punts back for a touchdown, tying a single-season NFL record held by Devin Hester (2007). His four returns are a career franchise record, breaking the mark set by former Cardinals greats Ollie Matson (1952-’58) and Vai Sikahema (1986-’90).

All four came from beyond 80 yards—another NFL record.

Following the 2011 season, Peterson said he wanted to return to the Pro Bowl, but this time as a cornerback. The statement is understandable. It’s likely one of many goals every NFL player has.

But to get to the Pro Bowl as a cornerback, he had to buckle down, work hard to correct the mistakes he made as a rookie and persevere through tough times on the field.

He has done so just a season later, affirming his will to be the best corner in the league. Is he the best cornerback in the league? Not yet. But at just 22 years old, he is well on his way.


The Numbers

Using ProFootballFocus, I gathered coverage information for Peterson and some of the top cornerbacks this season. The chart below shows his improvement in coverage from his rookie to sophomore season.

The improvement is there. He wasn’t targeted as often this season over last, but part of that could be attributed to the respect he is gaining around the league. He picked off a pass in four straight games from Week 11 to Week 14, an NFL season high.

If not for a string of three consecutive games in which he allowed touchdowns to Percy Harvin, Michael Crabtree and Randall Cobb, he may be the top-rated cornerback in the league.

Peterson told Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com he is proud of what he accomplished this season.

It solidified what I’ve been trying to get the world to see. I’ve been working hard to get in this position […] Last year was a huge accomplishment, but this one is 10 times better. I wanted to set myself up to be a great cornerback. Being a good punt returner is huge, but I want to be known as a great defensive back.

That prompted a spat of comments via Facebook ripping Peterson for a range of different things. Some of the comments are featured below—with names and faces blacked out for anonymity’s sake, even though these “fans” should be called out by name.

Based on those comments, Peterson is an egotistical slacker who can't tackle Samantha Gordon and can't cover a receiver to save his life. What a terrible person he is.

The next chart shows where he ranks among the top NFL cornerbacks. Those in bold are Pro Bowl-bound in January. As cornerbacks. Based on coverage skills, among other things.

The major question that needs answered—other than finding out how Green Bay Packers rookie CB Casey Hayward was overlooked for the Pro Bowl—is how fans believe Peterson is unworthy of even being considered for the Pro Bowl, let alone unworthy of being in the Pro Bowl.

Sherman will be the NFC’s first alternate at corner, meaning if someone can’t attend, he would get the call to take the place of whoever won’t be there. A case can be made he should be on the roster, but a positive test for Adderall (which has since miraculously been thrown out) could have hurt his numbers at the polls.

Peterson’s coverage was right there with the best of them, and he was even better after the Cardinals’ Week 10 bye.

Quarterbacks went 22-of-44 (50.0 percent) for 348 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions in the seven games following the bye. His overall opposing passer rating was 54.0 over that time.

The final chart simply shows the same group of corners’ performances since Week 11 in comparison to Peterson. In case you forgot, Pro Bowlers are in bold.

Notice how five of the six Pro Bowlers are last among the bunch. The two NFC starters, both Chicago Bears, are dead last and, frankly, were horrible to end the season. (Again, why is Hayward not on the roster?)

The area in which he needs refocusing is in punt returning. His record-setting rookie season seems like long ago after a very average year two. His yards-per-return average dropped from a franchise single-season record 15.9 to just 8.4, he muffed or fumbled seven punts and he did not score.


The Play

Now, we will look at a play that signifies what Peterson is as a corner. This play—one you all have seen by now—took place in New York during Arizona’s Week 13 game against the Jets. (All pictures in the following sequence are courtesy of NFL Game Rewind and NFL.com.)

Peterson is covering Jets receiver Chaz Schilens in man-to-man coverage on a 2nd-and-6 early in the second quarter. Schilens lines up wide to the right, and as you can see, Peterson is playing up on the line of scrimmage.

Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez motions Schilens into the right slot, prompting Peterson to back off his press coverage in anticipation of the deep route his foe is about to run.

Two seconds after the snap of the ball, Peterson allows Schilens to run by him while leaving the middle of the field open for Sanchez to deliver the pass. He stays just close enough to hear Schilens’ heavy breathing as he sprints toward what is sure to be a career-long touchdown catch.

20 yards further down the field, the ball has been thrown by Sanchez and Peterson is still keeping his distance. It is over the final 10 yards of the route, however, that he closes the space to make what was one of the plays of the Cardinals season.

From this angle, we can see Sanchez can’t believe Peterson is doing what he’s doing.

Fox announcer Brian Billick was very excited in the moments following Peterson's mind game with Sanchez. He had this to say of the play:

This is why I told you I think he’s the best corner in the game right now. He baited Mark Sanchez to throw this ball. He hung back knowing that he could close ground to make this type of interception.

That’s absolutely brilliant. And he set it up by willfully trailing the play, daring Mark Sanchez to throw his third interception.

So, Cardinals fans, you now see how good Peterson was this season. Saying anything to the contrary after you read this is pure ignorance and a blatant attempt to upset those who pay attention.

This concludes your education on Peterson’s 2012 season.


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