On the heels of the Arizona Cardinals signing Patrick Peterson to the richest cornerback contract in NFL history, much of the talk has been whether the 24-year-old is worth the five-year, $70.05 million extension—more specifically, whether he is worth more than Seattle Seahawks star Richard Sherman.
People can use statistics to say anything they want these days. One of the points being brought up among those who believe Peterson is not worthy of such a paycheck centers around how the former No. 5 overall pick allowed seven touchdowns last year. While that number comes from Pro Football Focus (subscription required), which has grown in popularity over the past few years and who most consider very reputable, he may not be on the hook for all of them.
He did all he could on the plays in question and was not “burned” on any of them. On five of the seven, in fact, he could not have done anything more given the situations. Two of those five should have been called back because of offensive penalties that went uncalled.
All seven will be broken down right here right now.
Whether you think Peterson is or is not worthy of the most lucrative contract for a cornerback in league history, you will walk away from this knowing his touchdowns were the product of either perfect execution on the part of the opposing offense, poor officiating or pure dumb luck.
The Dumb Luck Group
We’ll begin by getting out of the way two of the unluckiest touchdowns allowed in Cardinals defensive history. The first play should have resulted in an interception by inside linebacker Karlos Dansby but instead went 72 yards the other way for a first-quarter score. The second should at least have been an incomplete pass and pass breakup by Peterson.
Week 2: Lions vs. Cardinals; 10:31 Remaining in 2nd Quarter
To this point in the game, Peterson has kept All-Pro receiver Calvin Johnson in his hip pocket. All the 6’5”, 230-pound star has mustered is two receptions for 19 yards—both came on slant routes with Peterson playing off-man coverage.
Johnson would again run a slant, which Dansby read the entire way. It’s not as though Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford is going to disguise his first read; that’s not his forte. He is still learning progression...but then again, you don’t typically have to get deep into your progression when your first read is Megatron.
Dansby is reading Stafford as he stares down Johnson. He knows that’s where the former No. 1 overall pick is going with the ball even before Stafford throws it.
Shown just a frame or two after the last picture from the end-zone view, Dansby is already cutting off the slant before Stafford has released the ball.
As good as he was in 2013, Dansby missed on having an additional three or four interceptions with gaffes like this one. This is the only one that ended disastrously for the defense, however. Peterson gets caught looking at Dansby because he assumed his teammate picked it off. Meanwhile, Johnson turns a five-yard slant into a 72-yard touchdown.
Week 10: Texans vs. Cardinals; 4:39 Remaining in 4th Quarter
Now-retired running back Rashard Mendenhall had just fumbled the ball away deep in Arizona territory. It’s 3rd-and-goal, and the Houston Texans are attempting an unlikely comeback with quarterback Case Keenum.
This is supposed to be a fade to the corner of the end zone to Pro Bowl receiver Andre Johnson. What you are about to see is an amount of dumb luck not seen since the "Immaculate Reception."
Peterson is in perfect coverage to take away a good corner-fade throw from Keenum. Johnson has no way of getting behind Peterson without interfering in some way, likely drawing a flag for offensive pass interference.
The pass is badly underthrown, but Peterson has such great coverage that he is able to adjust in time and get his hand on the pass, tipping it away.
Only instead of the ball falling harmlessly to the turf, it falls directly into the open arms of Johnson for the second of his two touchdowns off Peterson (we’ll get to the first shortly).
The Poor Officiating Group
It may seem uncouth to use poor officiating as an excuse for Peterson giving up touchdowns; believe me, I hate doing it. But facts are facts, and two touchdowns Peterson allowed in 2013 should have been nullified by way of offensive penalty. Let’s get these out of the way.
Note: The first of these two also could be lumped into the “perfect execution” group because of the dime thrown to the receiver. Peterson could do nothing within the rules of the game to keep this touchdown from happening.
Week 10: Texans vs. Cardinals; 6:03 Remaining in 1st Quarter
The only thing that kept this from being literal perfection was the blatant hold of nose tackle Dan Williams by right guard Brandon Brooks that went uncalled. You’ll see that unfold in the GIF at the end.
Johnson is going to run a dig across the middle. Peterson is playing off Johnson and shaded to the outside to take away anything to the wide side of the field.
The dig was to be shallower than it ended up being, but rookie defensive back Tyrann Mathieu gives Johnson a good shove. It gave Peterson perfect defensive positioning as a result.
Remember when Peterson picked off Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Mike Glennon late in Arizona’s Week 4 win on the road? Receiver Vincent Jackson ran a dig similar to this one, and Peterson was in about this same spot when Glennon let the ball go. Peterson stepped in front and picked it off because Glennon didn’t lead Jackson enough.
That would not happen here.
Johnson nearly has to dive to get this ball. It is the only place Keenum could put it without risk of Peterson disrupting the play. Perfect pass.
But that hold of Williams. How did it go unseen? This play should not have counted, because if Brooks does not hold Williams, the big nose tackle likely sacks Keenum for a big loss.
Week 15: Cardinals vs. Titans; 0:14 Remaining in 4th Quarter
This missed call still stings. Yes, the Cardinals won the game in overtime, but that’s not what’s important here. Offenses have enough advantage in today’s NFL as it is; when they’re allowed to get away with plays like this, you get a feeling that things are getting out of hand.
Wideout Mike Preston has Peterson one-on-one to the left. He’s about to run an in route, but not before receiver Kendall Wright (left slot) takes out cornerback Jerraud Powers with an illegal downfield block.
The ball has not yet left quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick’s hand, but already Wright has engaged Powers. Where Powers was is right where the ball is going.
With Powers out of the way and Peterson trailing behind, Preston has an easy game-tying touchdown with seconds remaining in regulation.
Are we all glad safety Yeremiah Bell is no longer with the team? You can see him watch from a distance as this play unfolds in front of him. He was reading Fitzpatrick stare down Preston, waiting for Wright to move Powers out of the way, but he did not break to the area.
You have to think 2014 first-round pick Deone Bucannon would have gotten there to blow up Preston at the goal line.
The Perfect Execution Group
The final three touchdowns PFF charged Peterson with were the result of perfect offensive execution and a bit of creativity in a crunch. We’ll go back to the Lions game for one, to New Orleans for another and round it out with a trip to Jacksonville to see a fourth-down play I’m not so sure is on Peterson in the first place.
Week 2: Lions vs. Cardinals; 2:00 Remaining in 2nd Quarter
With the Cardinals up 10-7 as the first half winds down, the Lions have the ball at the Arizona 3-yard line immediately following the two-minute warning.
This play is going to be a combination of a couple you’ve seen here already: It’s an end-zone fade route, but wideout Nate Burleson runs a rub route. You saw an illegal variation of that with the Titans above.
Burleson disrupts Peterson—and Mathieu, for that matter—perfectly, setting the stage for what would be a go-ahead score late in the half.
Placement of the ball is important here. Despite being out of position after being shielded by Burleson and Mathieu, Peterson could have picked this ball off and taken it to the house had Stafford underthrown it or not lofted it enough.
That isn’t an issue, however, as ball-placement is absolute perfection.
Week 3: Cardinals vs. Saints; 5:29 Remaining in 4th Quarter
This play can be summed up in three words: No. Safety. Help. Sure, Peterson is one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, and he usually doesn’t require help from a safety. But this is Jimmy Freaking Graham. Left alone with Peterson in a one-on-one situation late in a blowout game.
Maybe coordinator Todd Bowles wanted to see how his star player would fare against one of the best offensive players in the game. Or maybe Bowles was showing respect to quarterback Drew Brees, who had rushed up the gut for a short touchdown earlier in the game.
Whatever the case, Peterson has Graham all by his lonesome on the outside, and he did not fare well. It’s a quick slant, and Graham is just too big and strong for Peterson to bring him down before crossing the goal line.
Week 11: Cardinals vs. Jaguars; 13:04 Remaining in 1st Quarter
Does anyone know who Danny Noble is? No one did before this fourth-down play early in a Cardinals win.
Why did it work to perfection? On 4th-and-1 in a jumbo formation, everyone on defense, including Peterson, is thinking running back Maurice Jones-Drew is about to get the ball. Little did they know, Noble would sneak by them en route to a 62-yard touchdown.
Peterson was closest to Noble as the tight end ran by, so that must mean he was responsible.