Cardinals betting on upgrade opposite Patrick Peterson

Arizona Cardinals

Opposing quarterbacks avoided Patrick Peterson like no other cornerback last season, so the Arizona Cardinals hope they’ve found an upgrade.

Defense was not the chief problem for the Arizona Cardinals during the 2018 season, with the league’s worst offense by virtually every meaningful measure. They finished with the fourth-best pass defense in the NFL (204 yards per game), led by Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson, though that was partially driven by having the sixth-fewest pass attempts against in the league.

Arizona was generous to opposing quarterbacks in terms of completion percentage (67.6 percent; 28th in the league), along with just seven interceptions (tied for second-fewest in the league). But those shortcomings are hard to put on Peterson.

According to NextGen Stats, Peterson was the nearest defender on just 50 of his 483 coverage snaps last season. That 10.4 percent target rate was the lowest among outside cornerbacks (minimum 400 coverage snaps).

After Peterson, Bene Benwikere played the second-most snaps among Cardinals’ cornerbacks last season. After that came Jamar Taylor, who was cut in November, and David Amerson, who was essentially signed to replace Taylor and played in six games. So an upgrade was clearly in order opposite their No. 1 cornerback, and the Cardinals surely hope they’ve already found one.

The Atlanta Falcons have gotten an early start on creating some salary cap space, and cornerback Robert Alford was one of their first cuts. But he landed quickly with the Cardinals, on a reported three-year, $22.5 million deal with $13.5 million guaranteed, so he’s clearly seen as the new No. 2 corner opposite Peterson.

Alford had been a pretty good player for the Falcons, but he tailed off dramatically in 2018. According to Pro Football Focus he allowed a league-high 137.0 passer rating over his 557 coverage snaps, with 51 catches allowed for 849 yards (on 75 targets, good for a 68 percent catch rate allowed). He also allowed seven touchdowns, with no interceptions as 36 of the catches he allowed went for first downs. If that’s not enough Alford allowed 36 receptions of 10-plus yards, the third-highest number among all cornerbacks in the league.

An injury-riddled Falcons’ defense was a detriment last season, but a better pass rush in Arizona should help Alford succeed. The Cardinals had 49 sacks last year (tied for fifth-most in the league), led by Chandler Jones (13), while the Falcons had 37 sacks (tied for 22nd in the league).

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But opposing offenses are sure to stay away from Peterson if it remains incredibly fruitful to throw to the other side of the field, so Alford will have ample opportunity to show last season was just a significant blip on the radar.

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