Patrick Peterson Wants To Stay In Minnesota. The Vikings Should Welcome Him.

Photo Credit: Jerome Miron (USA TODAY Sports)

When Patrick Peterson first signed with the Minnesota Vikings, it came as something of a surprise, even to Peterson and the Vikings. After Peterson missed out on the bigger free-agent contracts, he started calling preferred destinations. One of those was the Vikings, where Mike Zimmer’s reputation preceded him.

Spielman had the deal together after a couple of phone calls in the Atlanta airport, and Peterson would be a Viking. But this was only a one-year deal. Peterson and free agents like him want to re-up in new, increased cap environments in an ever-changing cap environment. But nothing is stopping the same team from facilitating all of those re-ups.

On Monday, Bryant McFadden, Peterson’s cousin and podcast partner, told Chris Tomasson that Peterson was interested in sticking around.

In March, there was a transactional nature to the free-agent signing, rather than some veneer of loyal commitment. The player uses the team to bolster his reputation and cash in the next year. The team uses the player to paper over a cornerback group that was, and is, falling apart.

But like a plot from Not Another Teen Movie, Peterson and the Vikings have grown a real attachment. Peterson has fostered relationships with both his coaches and teammates. When Cameron Dantzler’s error cost them a game against the Detroit Lions, Dantzler’s first move was to seek Peterson’s advice. “What did I do wrong, big bro?” he asked.

Peterson has often waxed poetic about how comfortable he feels in Zimmer’s scheme, which shows on tape. We can see this in action by a few examples from fellow ZoneCoverage writer Nick Olson.

In Arizona, Peterson shadowed as much as any corner in the NFL. We detailed this when he first signed, but to recap: Peterson shadowing was a bad idea. He couldn’t follow elite receivers into the slot anymore at his age. In Minnesota, Peterson hasn’t lined up in the slot more than twice in any single game.

Zimmer lives in match coverages — those look like zone coverage to a charter but end up using man-coverage techniques. There are various responsibilities for a cornerback to use. One is “MEG” or “Man Everywhere he Goes.” That’s as difficult as it can get; you have to be responsible for inside breaks, outside breaks, and every depth.

Some coverages only ask the cornerback to perform “MOD” coverage, which stands for “Man Outside and Deep.” (There are some other acronyms, but this is the easiest to remember, in my opinion). So inside breaks are covered by someone else. This allows you to commit fully to outside coverage, and any inside fake will fall on apathetic eyes:

If Metcalf stayed underneath, he’d become the linebacker’s responsibility (though a fast flat pretty much precludes that possibility). If he broke inside on a post or underneath dig, Harrison Smith is reading No. 2 to No. 1. As long as there isn’t another vertical route to worry about, Smith would pick up that inside break, so Peterson doesn’t have to worry about a slant. He can commit to outside coverage and lean on his decades-in-the-making technique.

Here’s what happens when the route breaks inside. It plays like zone coverage, but both Alexander and Peterson can play tight to their receivers and squeeze throwing windows:

It’s not that easy all the time, though. Teams know that the Vikings want to give Peterson a little help, and they have ways to deny that. Peterson can hold up when he’s tested in this way. Here, the Pittsburgh Steelers line up in 3×1, with three receivers away from Peterson. That leaves Peterson one on one, but he positions himself perfectly to respond to the multiple stutter steps the receiver throws at him:

I still wouldn’t trust the old man to do this every rep of every game like Arizona did. If offenses are going to force it, they do so at a schematic cost. A 3×1 formation lures extra defenders toward the passing strength of the formation. It isolates Peterson, but all of their eggs are in that basket. It’s harder to sustain that over the course of a game, so no offense will try to do that.

Having a cornerback as good as 2021 Peterson isn’t as good as, say, 2017 All-Pro Peterson. But there’s still schematic value in it. Peterson isn’t perfect in isolated coverage, but he’s good enough to require offenses to commit a lot of schematic resources to exploit that.

If they don’t try to exploit him, he can play comfortably and shut down his responsibilities. That’s worth investing in, and it should age pretty well. The Vikings don’t require Peterson to make fast breaks on the ball or go step-for-step with deep burners. The coverages don’t really play out that way.

All this is to say that if Peterson really does want to stay in Minnesota, the Vikings would be wise to oblige him. Even if Mike Zimmer isn’t the coach in 2022, whoever is running the defense can use a cornerback of Peterson’s stature. Assuming, of course, that Peterson would feel the same way about the Vikings sans Zimmer.

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