The Pittsburgh Steelers had a pretty good year in 2018 facing the NFC, going 3-1, blowing out the Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons, nearly giving up an insurmountable lead against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, playing the New Orleans Saints very close before blowing it late.
This year, they play the NFC West, which is a mixed bag to say the least. The division includes the defending conference champions in the Los Angeles Rams, as well as the Seattle Seahawks, who have bene one of the more consistent teams of the past decade or so. But the other two teams drafted in the top five last month.
One, the San Francisco 49ers, expects that to change immediately, as they will have Jimmy Garoppolo back, who missed all but three games last year. The Arizona Cardinals just drafted Kyler Murray first overall, but that may be a process. Even still, they have talent on their roster.
That includes All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson, who it was recently announced will miss the first six games of the 2019 season due to a suspension for violation of the league’s substance abuse policy. Unfortunately, the Steelers don’t catch a break, as they play the Cardinals later in the season.
But two of their division rivals are luckier. Both the Baltimore Ravens and the Cincinnati Bengals will get to play Arizona within the first six weeks of the season, so they will face the Cardinals without arguably, perhaps, their best player on either side of the ball.
Peterson has consistently been one of the top cornerbacks in the league, to the point where quarterbacks routinely shy away from throwing in his direction. As is frequently the case, he was among the league leaders in facing the fewest targets per snaps in coverage last season. He was targeted just once every 11.1 snaps in coverage last season. The only qualifying quarterback who saw targets less frequently was Richard Sherman of the 49ers. They were also one and two in receptions allowed per snap in coverage, to nobody’s surprise.
The Steelers haven’t faced Peterson since 2015, and Mike Vick started that game, with Landry Jones replacing him due to injury in the second half. Jones ultimately connected twice for scores with Martavis Bryant for the comeback victory. According to Pro Football Focus, Peterson was targeted six times in that game, all in Antonio Brown’s direction. He allowed two receptions for 26 yards.
It’s been a long time since Peterson has been heavily targeted, as exemplified by the fact that the last time he had more than three interceptions was when he recorded seven in 2012, he second season. He has picked off 23 passes in his career and has never missed a game.