There's an unmistakable bond that joins former LSU Tiger and current Arizona Cardinal defensive backs Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu. It goes beyond being former teammates in college and even beyond the football field.
Peterson's parents, who live in Florida, gave Mathieu a place to stay when he made the decision to leave Louisiana amid some personal trouble, per Josh Weinfuss of ESPN.com:
Patrick Peterson Sr. welcomed a shy, quiet, humble Tyrann into his home and watched a young man leave who understood how to avoid a repeat of LSU. Peterson Sr. and Tyrann spent hours talking about how to make smarter decisions, be responsible and fend off temptations.
Terrance Harris of NOLA.com had a piece back in September that struck at the heart of what this bond was about. It was Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians that shared the story of a meeting with Peterson before the draft.
"Patrick Peterson came in my office and said, 'Hey Coach, I'll stand on the table for this guy (Mathieu),'" Arians said. "Give him a chance."
Fortunately for Arians and the Cardinals, this story isn't just about one player sticking up for another and helping get him an opportunity; it's about them both seizing their opportunity together and forming the NFL's next great secondary duo.
But seizing that opportunity for Peterson meant more than just playing well on the field. Peterson took on the added responsibility of making sure Mathieu stayed on the right path. The off-field concerns for Mathieu have been widely documented, but they're also in the past, and Peterson seems to be only thinking about the future, via NOLA.com:
I'm extremely happy for him, he's taken the right steps. He's doing everything the right way, which he should be doing. We're practically brothers. I feel that I'm the big brother, role model type for him. I'm definitely not taking that duty lightly.
Through nine games this season, both Peterson and Mathieu rank in the top 12 in Pro Football Focus' cornerback rankings (subscription required).
Although Mathieu has been working quite a bit at safety in the Cardinals base defense, he still picks up snaps at cornerback when they switch to sub-packages, and that's probably why he's still listed as a cornerback over at PFF.
Mathieu is the only cornerback listed with at least a 1.6 grade in all four major areas that PFF grades defensive backs; coverage, run defense, penalties and pass rush.
|PFF's cornerback rankings - minimum 60% of snaps|
|1||Darrelle Revis||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||16.6|
|2||Alterraun Verner||Tennessee Titans||13.2|
|3...||Jason McCourty||Tennessee Titans||10.6|
|6...||Tyrann Mathieu||Arizona Cardinals||9.1|
|9...||Patrick Peterson||Arizona Cardinals||7.7|
|Pro Football Focus|
Only Alterraun Verner and Jason McCourty of the Tennessee Titans could claim to have been a better secondary duo to this point by PFF's rankings. But Peterson at 23 years old and Mathieu at just 21 trump the age comparison, as Verner and McCourty check-in at an ancient 24 and 26 years old, respectively.
There's enough room in the NFL for a few great defensive back duos, especially during this pass-happy era.
Part of what has made Mathieu such a great fit for the Cardinals defense is how they're moving him around. Mathieu has spent time at free safety but has also seen a lot of snaps from the nickel cornerback position.
It's from the nickel spot that Mathieu has been allowed to stay close to the line of scrimmage and make plays in the run game. He's ranked as the fourth-best cornerback in the NFL against the run, according to PFF, and the play below shows just one of the reasons why he's done so well in that spot.
The Houston Texans are in 21 personnel (2 backs, 1 tight end) with two wide receivers set to the open side of the formation.
Mathieu is lined up on the slot receiver, and the Texans run the ball with Ben Tate to the weak side (open) of the formation. Mathieu does a fantastic job of getting around the block and making a play against the run.
Once Tate got through the first level of the defense, it was only Mathieu and the outside cornerback who had a chance to keep this from being a big play for the Texans.
Despite a lot of talk about his size at just 5'9" and 186 pounds, Mathieu is still able to use his quickness to get around blocks and make plays in traffic.
Peterson, on the other hand, hasn't had his size questioned at 6'1" and 219 pounds, and neither has his coverage ability this season.
This play against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers shows the ability Peterson has.
The Buccaneers are in 21 personnel with receiver Vincent Jackson split out to the left. Peterson sets in press-man coverage on Jackson with a single-high safety over the top.
Peterson does a great job off the snap of keeping his hands on Jackson within five yards of the line of scrimmage, and then he stays stride for stride with Jackson as he breaks off his deep in-route.
Peterson is then able to undercut the route and intercept the pass.
Both of these plays show the ability these players bring to the table. Due to their age and past history with one another, there's no reason to think Mathieu and Peterson won't continue to develop together in Arizona for the foreseeable future.
They are one of the NFL's next top secondary duos, and they're only going to get better.