Film Room: What The Steelers Are Getting With CB Patrick Peterson

Hours after losing CB Cam Sutton to the Detroit Lions, the Pittsburgh Steelers made their first free agency move to help replace him, agreeing with veteran Patrick Peterson on a two-year deal worth $14 million. Peterson wasn’t on most Steelers’ fans radars given his age and the expectation, throughout the offseason, that Sutton would re-sign.

So what are the Steelers getting with Peterson? This will be our first in what will likely be several film studies on him throughout the offseason. This will be a broader look at the pros and cons of his game with some final thoughts. We’ll break it down very cleanly with some bullet points. Let’s talk about his game and get into the tape.

The Good

— High football IQ, experienced and seen it all; understands route concepts, where routes break, and uses mental aptitude to make up for lost speed and athleticism
— Not fooled by double-moves and can mirror routes; knows where they break and doesn’t take the cheese
— Physical enough in open field and will tackle when he needs to
— High-energy player who wears emotions on his sleeve; likes to talk and get inside WRs heads
— Comfortable in off-man/catch-man coverage and techniques
— Strong in zone coverage, able to read route through the QB, and makes plays on the ball; aggressive and opportunistic
— Defends quick/three-step game well
— Game hasn’t dramatically slowed despite being well into his 30s
— Experience at both CB positions, played a tiny bit over slot against certain alignments and formations (empty + 3×1 nub)
— Leader and player teammates can follow and model their game after

So that’s the good. Peterson is a crafty veteran and he’s seen it all in a 12-year career that’s spanned 184 games. Among active defensive players, Peterson’s 184 career games are seventh most in the league, just ahead of Cam Heyward. That experience shows up on tape. Double moves don’t fool this guy and he knows where routes break and where they don’t. Here’s a bunch of examples.

Bottom of the screen, the RCB in the first clip (Steelers), top of the screen, LCB in the second clip (Eagles), and top of the screen, LCB in the third clip (Packers).

Peterson’s patient and smart and reads routes well, especially the quick game. He quickly closes on slants and doesn’t allow much YAC. You can see him finish at the top of routes even downfield, too. I love this rep, recovering, taking a good angle to the ball, and breaking this pass up. RCB, top of the screen.

While Peterson doesn’t play the run as forcefully as you’d like, he will tackle receivers in space. Watch him cut down Ray-Ray McCloud against the Steelers two years ago. Obviously, McCloud isn’t a big guy but overall, the tape shows Peterson (6’0, roughly 220 pounds) as a guy who can get the job done when he needs to. Top of the screen, LCB.

Peterson’s a veteran and lead-by-example type that will help fill the presence Joe Haden/Cam Sutton held over the past couple years. That’ll be good for the room. Peterson certainly is expressive on tape and will let you know when he’s made a play, when he’s been held, and even when plays go bad. He may have to temper that negative body language a bit under DC Teryl Austin but he’s a high energy and emotional player.

So that’s the broad base view of the good. What about the bad?

The Bad

— Lacks the great speed he had early in his career
— Vulnerable to giving up space at the top of routes, struggles most against receivers who vary speed and tempo in route and bust with second gear at the top
— Was limited to more of a pure boundary side role in latter half of 2022
— Needs to show more urgency filling and attacking the run, aims too high as a tackler
— Questions about scheme-fit in man-heavy system, better in zone

The concerns here are obvious. Peterson’s still playing well at 32, better than most corners his age, but there’s concern about the gradual and inevitable falloff. The metrics shows the Vikings were one of the most zone-heavy teams last year while the Steelers were one of the most man-heavy teams. If Pittsburgh stays man-heavy in 2022, will that hinder Peterson’s game?

My biggest concern is him running vertically at the top of the route. He’s smart and sticky against double-moves but the routes were receivers change speed and tempo in the stem of the route is a big problem. At the top, receivers can burst away from him and create space. Some examples from the Steelers’ game: First one, the James Washington TD, looks like the Vikings are in Quarters/Cover 4 but you can see Peterson struggle to close that gap, even on this underthrown pass.

RCB, top of the screen in both clips against Pittsburgh.

And RCP, top of the screen, in the Wild Card loss to the New York Giants.

I didn’t watch Peterson’s entire 2022 season but watching the 2021 game against Minnesota versus 2022, Peterson seemed to become much more of a boundary corner, especially the back half of the year. And I don’t just mean an outside corner. I mean the literal boundary, the closed side of the field. So if the ball was on the hash, Peterson aligned to that side.

I imagine that was done to help him defend less space and mitigate the athleticism that he’s lost, though the NFL hashes are more narrow than the college and boundary/field isn’t as significant as it is in the NCAA. Still, it’s a worrying sign, especially knowing the Steelers corners have played sides for about a decade. Not shadowing, not playing field/boundary, just playing left or right. If Peterson gets aligned to the field, he could be in trouble.

His run defense also leaves much to be desired. It’s harder for CBs on screens and pulls/tosses because they can’t get linemen like they used to but I didn’t see enough urgency filling gaps and playing the run as I would’ve liked. Better in space and on screen passes but the run game, it’s not what I’d ideally want.


Peterson isn’t as good as Sutton is, at least as Sutton was last year, especially given their career arcs. Sutton is in his prime, Peterson is trying to make it two more years. He certainly isn’t as versatile and that’s a concern. There’s still work to do in replacing all that Sutton did, but the offseason just started. No one is going to panic one day in when Peterson’s contract isn’t even official yet.

Peterson is a high-IQ corner who is strong in zone and isn’t fooled by most tricks of the trade. He should be a strong communicator to limit coverage busts, an underrated key to the Steelers’ defensive success the back half of last season. Peterson should also bring leadership to a room needing it with Sutton moving on.

Pittsburgh played a lot of man last year but it wasn’t a ton of press and tight-man coverage. Peterson will work far better in off-man so I’m not as concerned about that as some of the scary-looking metrics might suggest (Vikings super zone heavy, Steelers super man heavy). Overall, I’m not mad at the signing and the money is reasonable. It’s essentially a one-year look at Peterson with the option to carry him next season.

In many of the macro-level ways, this is Joe Haden 2.0: former first-round pick who isn’t quite the athlete he once was but a smart leader looking to win in the final years of his career. Like Haden, Pittsburgh will likely be Peterson’s last stop. And like Haden, Peterson is looking to make a playoff run. In his 12-year career, Peterson has just one playoff win, the 2015 Divisional Game over Green Bay as a member of Arizona. Hopefully things turn out better for him than Haden, who never won a playoff game as a Steeler or his entire NFL career.

But the cornerback room still needs help in the slot and an injection of youth within that unit. We’ll see how the whole room is put together to better judge how the pieces end up fitting.

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