TEMPE, Ariz. – Cornerbacks have gone to unusual lengths to psyche themselves up before matchups with Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson.
Last season, the Packers’ Tramon Williams dubbed himself Optimus Prime, which also happens to be the Twitter handle that Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman claimed in response to Johnson’s nickname, Megatron.
“That’s what (safety) Rashad Johnson was calling me last year, too” Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “But I’m sticking to my own name.”
Sherman is clearly an elite cornerback, despite his Pro Bowl snub. But given his otherworldly return abilities, his Pro Bowl selection on defense last season and his newest job duties on offense, Peterson has become a household name.
“I just feel Pat is the elite cornerback in the league,” said teammate Larry Fitzgerald, who faces Peterson daily in practice. “He’s taken that next step mentally, and there’s nothing he can’t do physically, so you add the two of those together and you have a deadly, deadly combination.”
Peterson will need his entire toolbox this Sunday when the Lions come to University of Phoenix Stadium. Johnson broke Jerry Rice’s single-season record for receiving yards last season with 1,964. In 93 career games, he has 7,873 yards and needs just 123 more on Sunday to tie Rice (94 games) for the third-fewest games required to reach 8,000 career yards.
At 6-foot-5, 236 pounds, Johnson is a matchup nightmare because he still has good speed and great hands, he runs precise routes and he’s difficult to separate from the ball.
“Obviously, Calvin Johnson is a freak of nature as far as size, speed and strength that goes into a wide receiver, in a probably defensive end body,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said.
Peterson faced Johnson last season when the Cardinals beat the Lions 38-10 to snap a nine-game losing streak. Johnson had 10 catches (17 targets) in that game for 121 yards, but he didn’t find the end zone.
“I kept him in front of me. That was my whole goal, eliminating those big plays, because that’s when he seems to get on, once you give up that 40-plus yard play,” said Peterson, who had an interception while defending Johnson that set up the offense at the Lions 3-yard line for an eventual TD. “Honestly, I gave myself an A, because I believe I did what the coaches wanted me to do by keeping him out of the end zone, even though he did have 100-something yards.”
Arians went so far as to call Johnson the league’s best receiver, even though he has Fitzgerald on his team. Not to worry. Fitzgerald agrees.
“You look at his numbers,” Fitzgerald said. “It is what it is.”
Peterson has an idea how the Lions will attack him because he likes to press receivers at the line of scrimmage. But it’s been difficult to simulate defending Johnson in practice because the only big body available is Fitzgerald, who is also nursing a sore hamstring.
“I want to be physical in this game, but I don’t want to be physical and mess around and hurt our star receiver,” Peterson said.
Peterson says he still marvels at the things Johnson can do at his size.
“The way he moves in and out of traffic; the way he gets in and out of press coverage,” Peterson said. “He’s big, but he moves like a little guy. He has little guy speed and comes in and out of his breaks, which is really impressive for a tall guy.
“He’s always doing the unthinkable.”
Arians said there will be times when Peterson is left on an island against Johnson on Sunday, but it won’t happen all the time.
“You have to watch what you wish for,” he said. “An elite player like Patrick, who is in my opinion the best corner in the league, is going against the best receiver in the league. Do you want to leave him out there one-on-one all day? No.
“But that’s going to happen, and he has to win his share of the battles.”
At least Arians knows Peterson is ready for that challenge.
“I want to be the best cornerback in the game,” Peterson said. “And if you are the best, you guard the best. I relish these type of moments, just to see how I will match up against arguably the best receiver in football last year, eventually he’s going to be a Hall of Famer and he already is a legend.”
The Cardinals announced a one-year contract extension for right guard Paul Fainaika on Thursday. Fanaika had been playing on a one-year, $630,000 deal. Fainaika made the team out of camp and became the starter at right guard after left guard Jonathan Cooper was lost for the season with a broken leg, forcing the Cards to move Daryn Colledge back to the left side. …
Injury report: TE Rob Housler (high ankle sprain) did not practice. LB Lorenzo Alexander (biceps), WR Larry Fitzgerald (hamstring) and RB Rashard Mendenhall (hamstring) were limited. WR Andre Roberts (quad) was upgraded from limited to full. New to the injury list were DT Darnell Dockett (shoulder) and LB John Abraham.