As the Cardinals get ready to take on the Lions this Sunday, most have things other than a victory in mind. Neither of these teams can make the playoffs at this juncture, so this game could be more about draft positioning than anything else.
But that does not mean there is not potential for it to be interesting. Specifically, I am thinking of a matchup between two of the best players at their respective positions in the NFL.
Second year corner Patrick Peterson will attempt to stop the NFL's top receiver this season in Calvin Johnson. Johnson leads the league in receiving yards and has been targeted the third most out of all receivers behind Brandon Marshall and Reggie Wayne.
Peterson, on the other hand, has proven to be especially effective in his sophomore year, especially since the bye week. According to our very Kent Hodder, in the four games the Cards have played since the bye, Peterson has allowed zero catches in three of the four games. That is the very definition of shutdown.
So who has the advantage going into the game this weekend?
When in coverage, Peterson has allowed 34 receptions on 66 targets this season, according to Pro Football Focus. On top of that, he has given up just four touchdowns in 2012. Johnson only has five touchdown receptions, which is definitely a down year for him in that department.
Still, Johnson is on pace to break Jerry Rice's single season receiving record of 1,848 yards. That should come as no surprise, as his physical stature, gifted hands and ability to breakdown any coverage allow him to be one of the best, if not the best, at what he does.
But Peterson isn't scared. In fact, he is looking forward to the challenge. He told Cardinals writer Darren Urban that, "At the end of the day for me, this is definitely something I am looking forward to for that extra edge, that extra motivation."
This is a big game for Peterson, as he has to prove that he is one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL (which is what he told Detroit reporters, apparently) by taking on one of the best receivers. Don't expect Matthew Stafford to shy away from throwing right at him as many other quarterbacks tend to do due to Peterson's elite coverage ability.
He will have to cover Johnson's big body in short to intermediate routes, but it is the deep ball that will be particularly interesting to watch out for. Johnson is 2nd in the league in deep pass (20 yards or more) targets this season, trailing only Demaryius Thomas of the Broncos. He has collected three of his five touchdowns via the deep pass, says Pro Football Focus.
One has to wonder how much help the Cardinals will give Peterson, as well. They may try to leave him on an island at first, but if Johnson starts to get too many catches, expect the Cards to start giving him some safety help over the top. Detroit does not feature a dominant run game, so that may be the strategy to take anyways.
Both sides are excited for the matchup, but perhaps the most eager to see it is Larry Fitzgerald, who deeply admires both of the players. He told Urban that he is, "confident in Pat. I have the utmost respect for Calvin. I am looking forward to seeing the matchup, to be honest with you."
It should be a fun one to watch.
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