Bruce Arians doesn’t seem to care too much what the Minnesota Vikings know about the Arizona Cardinals’ coverage plans. Arians had no problem revealing to Minnesota reporters on a conference call Wednesday that cornerback Patrick Peterson would be shadowing Stefon Diggs in coverage.
That matchup pits the Cardinals’ best cornerback, and one of the best in the NFL, against the Vikings’ wide receiver who became the first player in NFL history to have back-to-back games with 13 or more receptions.
“Patrick, he’s a great player. He’s one of the best cornerbacks in the league, but I think Diggs is a really good receiver as well,” Vikings QB Sam Bradford said. “When a team does choose to match their best cover corner against our best receiver, I think it’s going to be a great matchup, it’s going to be fun to watch. As a quarterback, I really don’t think that you can let it affect your progressions too much. If you just go out there and say, ‘Hey, Patrick is on Diggs, we’re not going to throw his way,’ then you’re already behind the 8-ball. You just really can’t let it affect you.”
Peterson has two interceptions and three passes defensed this year, but he has been one of the NFL’s better cover cornerbacks over the last several years and is a five-time Pro Bowler.
“There’s different ways of matching up and different ways of getting guys off guys. We’ll have to do a good job of doing that if that’s what they decide to do,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “They play a lot of single-high defense anyway, whether it’s man to man or some kind of zone.”
Although it doesn’t rise to the level of one of the great matchups of 1990s that Zimmer remembered working with – Deion Sanders playing for the Dallas Cowboys, when Zimmer was a defensive assistant there, and pitting him against Jerry Rice – the Vikings coach knows there can be challenges created in the defense when a cornerback is tasked to shadow a receiver throughout a game.
“It’s not too hard man to man. You can find guys in man to man. It’s when they’re in zones, that makes it a little more difficult,” Zimmer said. “I remember when we were in Dallas and we were trying to get Deion on Jerry Rice all the time. In the zones, he could find where to go, but the rest of them, the linebacker might be on a wide receiver or something like that. Sometimes in the zones it’s a little tougher.”
[JOIN THE VIKINGS DISCUSSION, ]
Sanders and Rice were both easy entrants into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Peterson should be a consideration for that down the road, but Diggs is still very young.
In fact, he has a chance to reach a franchise record for receptions before his 23rd birthday on Nov. 29. With two games to play before that date, Diggs has 113 receptions, bested only by Percy Harvin’s 131 catches before he turned 23.
However, last year against the Cardinals, Diggs had only two catches for 12 yards.
“I think schematically we’ve done some things just to try to get him the ball where he is the primary read,” Bradford said of Diggs. “But, like I said after the past couple games, I think Diggs does a great job of finding soft spots in the zone. He’s great at finding seams in there, getting open and making sure that he presents himself to me.”
This year, it’s a different quarterback (Bradford) and a different offensive coordinator (Pat Shurmur) for the Vikings as Arizona and Minnesota fight to maintain playoff legitimacy. It’s also a different, beaten-up offensive line going against the second-ranked Cardinals defense.
“This is going to be one of our biggest challenges of the year,” Bradford said, “probably the best group that we’ve faced.”