Patrick Peterson is playing the best football of his career in 2015, and that's significant considering he was already a Pro Bowl cornerback in each of his first four NFL seasons. But in Year 5, Peterson's statistics finally back up the claim that he's an elite, shutdown cornerback.
While he earned a Pro Bowl nod in 2014, it's hard to argue that he deserved as much. He allowed eight touchdowns, according to Pro Football Focus, which was the third-most in the NFL and at a press conference on Wednesday, Peterson admitted he just wasn't right.
"Last year definitely wasn't my best year," Peterson said. "This year is just getting back to Patrick Peterson, for the most part. I've been an All-Pro before. I've been recognized as one of the best cornerbacks before. I've been to five Pro Bowls. So it's not a shock or a surprise that I'm getting my recognition back."
Opposing quarterbacks had a 97.0 passer rating when throwing at Peterson in 2014, but that number dropped all the way down to 61.8 in the 2015 regular season after he allowed just two touchdowns. The biggest difference was Peterson getting his weight under control after he was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in April 2015.
Patrick Peterson: I feel 50 times faster than last season. … I was just too heavy, a step behind (in 2014).— Around The NFL (@AroundTheNFL) January 20, 2016
With Peterson at full health, he's back to being a cornerback that opposing quarterbacks fear. During the 2015 season, he was targeted once every 19.5 times he was in coverage, narrowly edging Richard Sherman's 19.2 coverage snaps between targets for the NFL lead. Sherman led the NFL in the stat in 2014 and 2013, and was second in 2012.
"[Peterson's] an extremely good player," Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton said on Wednesday. "He gets a lot of notoriety and rightfully so. I've been playing against him since his last year at LSU and nothing has really changed with his game plan.
"We can't let him be who he is. You have to make it as uncomfortable for him as much as possible, in the run game as well as in the pass game. You ask yourself 'What can't he do?' He's fast, he's physical and when the ball is in the air he isn't thinking to bat it down, he's thinking 'That's my ball.' You just have to have respect for the guy."
When Newton and Peterson face each other in the NFC Championship on Sunday it will be their fourth matchup in the NFL, and the fifth when including a 2010 game between Auburn and LSU. Both players were selected in the top five of the 2011 NFL Draft and faced each other in Week 1 of their rookie seasons.
In the last meeting in the playoffs last year, Peterson was targeted just four times by Newton and allowed two receptions for 16 yards. Before that, Peterson intercepted Newton twice in a 2013 win over the Panthers. In his three career games against the Cardinals, Newton has a passer rating of 45.6 when targeting Peterson.