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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Challenge of the Week: Overcoming Cardinals CB Patrick Peterson

By Arif Hasan

The Minnesota Vikings, in their offensive revival, have come to rely upon Stefon Diggs to get their passing game going. With 26 receptions over the past two games under Pat Shurmur, it’s obvious that the passing game—and some of what has replaced the running game—runs through Diggs. In response to that, Bruce Arians was unambiguous about how the Cardinals would deal with that problem: put his best cornerback on Diggs all game.

Matthew Coller covered the specific problems with the matchup and how much Patrick Peterson has helped Arizona put together a top-ten pass defense. His combination of size, athleticism and instinct make him tough to deal with, and he’s excelled both on the outside and the inside taking on the top receivers in the NFL.

How can the Vikings best enable Diggs and minimize the role Peterson will play?

First, it should be noted that Stefon Diggs was unusually successful against him the last time they played in terms of getting open against man coverage. While he officially only logged two receptions, he was open far more often than most receivers had been against Peterson that year, and simply didn’t receive that many catchable targets in that game.

Generally speaking, Peterson’s weaknesses aren’t that significant; he’s been able to overcome them in the last two years to emerge as one of the league’s best cornerbacks after years of hype had overvalued his on-field play for his draft position and physical talent.

But it is important to use what small weaknesses he does have in order to generate marginal advantages that Diggs can exploit throughout the game.

Because Peterson is best in press coverage, the Vikings should be willing to keep Diggs in the slot or in a flanker role that keeps him off the line of scrimmage while stress-testing Marcus Cooper, a severely underperforming piece of that defense, in press against Adam Thielen and Cordarrelle Patterson.

Once freed from the jam, Minnesota will find themselves with a lot of space to work with. Peterson doesn’t have a lot of athletic weaknesses, but he is a bit stiff in coverage and has had issues with fluid receivers who hide their breaks—much like Diggs does.

Implementing man-beaters in passing concepts that are also friendly with three-step drops will be critical to that effort. Shurmur has shown throughout his career that he’s been comfortable with a passing concept called “mesh,” which has been a staple of West Coast offenses and has become a key weapon in the Air Raid and spread arsenals of many college teams.

Though he implemented it with Bradford in St. Louis and to some degree in Cleveland, it really thrived in Philadelphia when he was functionally the passing game coordinator with Chip Kelly, who was familiar with the concept in his time at Oregon. It puts a lot of stress on man coverage and allows the receivers to force the defensive backs to run into each other or slow down.

Even without that mesh, which is sometimes difficult for the receivers to get down because of the necessity of specific footwork and timing, the shallow cross concept in general is a strong one for Diggs and the Vikings because it allows the smaller receiver to run underneath without contact while Peterson follows and has to navigate the traffic in the middle of the field.

They should also implement more bunch formation looks in order to force the Cardinals into zone defense. If Arizona stays in man coverage against that look, they’ll be incredibly susceptible to switch routes and legal picks that will leave receivers wide open, so they have to check into some kind of zone coverage.

Not only will that free Diggs from Peterson for a bit, it will create isolated routes on the backside that should enable someone like Patterson to make short work of Cooper.

Diggs is an incredibly capable route-runner against zone coverage and should be able to find the seams in those situations.

Only the limitations of the offensive line prevent some of the better routes Diggs should be able to break open on against Peterson, but Peterson has had issues with crafty, agile route-runners with square-in routes, particularly when he doesn’t have help inside (say, because the Cardinals blitz).

Despite the fact that enough time might not be there for the play to develop, it should be in the gameplan and playbook. Diggs is talented on these routes, and it’s something Peterson has shown he can be vulnerable to.

Besides, it just seems right—another name for the route is the dig.

Not only that, setting up those inside routes will give Diggs space to beat Peterson on pivot and out routes. Below, we can see what the impact of that space had on Peterson in last year’s game—an accurate pass from Bridgewater would have put the Vikings in scoring position. As a bonus, a bunch formation below also frees up Rhett Ellison at the top of the screen.

Diggs’ pivot ability is among the best in the NFL and it’s something that will allow them to win on the outside against press man coverage on deep routes. In the first clip below, he zips past Janoris Jenkins on that pivot route in 2015. In the second clip, from this year, he burns James Bradberry at the bottom of the screen.

If all of that fails, the Vikings can at least gamble that Peterson is a better coverage defender than he is a tackler, and if they create enough space for Diggs in the slot or in bunch formation, that they can throw a screen to him and bet on him to win out against Peterson or whichever defender ends up hoping to tackle him. The Arizona Cardinals have been susceptible to screen passes in the past few years, and they rank as one of the worst five teams in the NFL in allowing broken tackles, per Football Outsiders’ Premium Charting project.

Patrick Peterson is a remarkable player, with very few weaknesses. Not only that, some of his weaknesses are not exploitable for the Vikings—small speedy receivers who beat him in a straight line typically benefit from a better offensive line and are generally faster than Diggs. But what few weaknesses he does have that are useable line up well with what Diggs can do. If the Vikings can find ways to keep Diggs off the line of scrimmage, force coverages to keep him off Diggs, or implement key elements of the route tree that present mismatches in favor of Diggs, they’ll be able to win through the air.

Patrick Peterson presents Stefon Diggs’ toughest challenge yet

The post Challenge of the Week: Overcoming Cardinals CB Patrick Peterson appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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