The best cornerbacks are mad scientists. They come onto the field with fanatical scouting and preparation. They know every possible thing about the receivers they cover, and the offensive concepts they’re about to face. And then, when it’s time to make the big play, they take their acumen and combine it with their world-class physical attributes to get things done.
Very few cornerbacks have gotten it done more than 12-year veteran Patrick Peterson did in the Minnesota Vikings’ 33-30 overtime win over the Buffalo Bills in Sunday’s Game of the Year. Peterson intercepted two Josh Allen passes — one in the fourth quarter, and one in overtime — and both in the red zone.
“When you can watch Pat Pete, the greatest to do it, it’s amazing,” rookie cornerback Andrew Booth Jr. said. “He makes plays like that consistently. We expect that. It’s not a ‘wow’ thing; he’s gonna come through every time.”
Linebacker Eric Kendricks agreed.
“That’s All-Pro Pat, you know what I mean? He’s been doing it for the longest time, and he’s one of the best players there ever was in the NFL in my opinion. He’s really hitting his stride. Let’s see what he does the rest of the year.”
Those interceptions pointed to a problem Allen has had with red zone risks all season, but there’s more to it than Allen failing when it matters most. As Peterson detailed in his weekly “All Things Covered” podcast with former Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals cornerback Bryant McFadden, the sheer amount of tape study and tendency work that goes into such a two-interception game is pretty extreme.
You can watch the entire episode here, and check out how Peterson first changed, and then finished, the game.
Fourth quarter: Putting the dagger in the Drive concept.
(Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports)
The first interception came with 10:42 left in regulation. The Bills were up, 27-17, and they had the ball at the Minnesota seven-yard line. A touchdown here probably puts the game away.
“It was fourth-and-2, and those guys were just trying to put the dagger in us,” Peterson said. “Just take all the air out of us at that point in the game. And as a defense, you always want to make them play one more down. And that’s what we did. It was a 2×2 set, a wide formation, and [Gabe] Davis was out wide. He motioned in to create a stack. He ran a quick under, and [Isaiah] McKenzie ran a speed out. The ball was on the opposite hash, and I’m thinking, ‘Drive concept,’ because they love those. But then again, McKenzie was their smallest receiver — he’s not a possession-type guy. So, you have to think of more out-breaking routes. That’s more of his body structure.
“If it was Davis, like I made the play on the second [interception], he’s more of a possession receiver. More of an in-breaking route receiver. McKenzie is more of a downfield and out-breaking guy.
“McKenzie ends up running the out-breaking route, and Josh breaks the pocket. I pushed McKenzie out of bounds, because by rule, when the quarterback breaks the pocket, you can push him out of bounds.
“If you go back and watch the play, I’m like a centimeter away from falling out of bounds myself. So, I’m back inbounds, and Josh is still rolling. We all know that Josh is a gunslinger who will put his arm strength up against anybody. He’s always looking to make that big play. All week, we were preaching about, ‘Stay in coverage. Stay plastered to your guy. Because he just might give you one.’
“With McKenzie out of the play, I noticed that he saw his tight end [Dawson Knox] streaking across the field, and that changed the momentum.”
Having the awareness to bump the front-side read out of bounds when the opposing quarterback leaves the pocket, and then to read the backside tight end crosser AND come back to pick off the pass? That is indeed next-level.
Overtime: Reading the Laser to win the game.
split to his side. Buffalo’s big concept in the red zone is the Laser concept, meaning that the No. 2 receiver is a clearout guy, running to the opposite pylon. The No. 1 receiver is running a dig, and that’s basically the concept they ran. They also like to run a Double Dino, which is a double post. That’s a Quarters beater, and that’s what we were in.
“With me going back to my film study, I looked at Davis and thought, ‘He’s an inside breaking receiver.’ He hasn’t shown me anything else all game. Hw showed me something on tape, and it validated itself in the game, and I’m like, ‘Oh, yeah! It’s crunchtime. He runs this route, I’m gonna go pick this ball off.’ You can ask [Bills cornerback] Tre’Davious White. I was near their sideline, and I said, ‘Tre, if they’re coming to this side, I’m ’bout to pick this ball off.’
“Lo and behold, they ran the Laser concept, they motioned from bunch to a 2×2 set, 85 [tight end Quintin Morris] was the clearout guy, and Josh is a guy who trusts his arm strength. He is a gunslinger. Coaches alluded to it all week: ‘Stay plastered into your coverage. Stay tight into your coverage. He just might throw you one.’
“And doggone it if he didn’t.”
Great cornerback play is all about knowing what the opponent is doing.
(Photo by Isaiah Vazquez/Getty Images)
Peterson has had his ups and downs over the last few seasons, but when he puts it all together as he did against the Bills, it’s tough to imagine a guy you’d want more on your defense.
“I’m going to remember this one forever,” Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell said. “We just had to continue to trade those blows, body blows, haymakers, and just try to be ready for the next snap, as long as they let us continue to play today.”
In the end, it was Peterson who came through with the two smartest haymakers on the field.