Signing Patrick Peterson to a one-year, $10 million deal seemed like a home run on paper, yet it was met with criticism by a weary fanbase that had seen Mike Zimmer’s defense fall apart last year. Peterson had the worst season of his career before leaving the Arizona Cardinals, but the Minnesota Vikings will miss him while he’s on injured reserve for at least three weeks.
Peterson was not seen as a long-term solution. Instead, he was a veteran brought in by a regime trying to squeeze every ounce of talent out of the roster they have. Peterson’s one-year contract is essentially a prove-it deal for a plug-and-play veteran. By being the best defender in coverage, he’s proven he’s still got what it takes to be a No. 1 corner.
Peterson has passed the eye test even if his grades and rankings don’t reflect it. He’s consistent and savvy. Bashaud Breeland might have produced the game’s highlight, but Peterson put on a clinic against the Carolina Panthers. D.J. Moore could not beat him over the top until Peterson left the game with what the team called “cramps.”
Unfortunately, those cramps are a hamstring injury, and the Vikings will put Peterson on injured reserve. Fortunately, there are some other surprises among the corners and safeties after Minnesota’s horrendous secondary performance last year.
Like Peterson, Xavier Woods was signed to a one-year deal after having the worst season of his career. Woods came over from the Dallas Cowboys and was regarded as not much more than a big hitter. He already has two pass breakups, tied for second-most in a season. He had seven in 2018.
Breeland has also been a surprise in some ways. But after an abysmal start to the season, he was a lockdown corner in Carolina. It helps that Sam Darnold saw ghosts and Robby Anderson had butterfingers, but there’s a reason the defensive line was able to get four(!) sacks on Darnold. The secondary was not giving receivers space, and Darnold was reminded of his anxious days with the New York Jets.
If Breeland can maintain the trajectory he’s been on if he ends up sliding over to take Peterson’s spot, there’s hope for the secondary to remain strong. But that’s a big if. That’s why it’s at least concerning that Peterson will be missing time, especially considering the difficulty of the schedule.
Cameron Dantzler is the other candidate to take Peterson’s spot. He’s been good in relief of Breeland, but Moore beat him over the top on a crucial fourth down after he filled in for Peterson. Moore didn’t beat Peterson over the top the whole game.
Dantzler is getting what he wants. He will likely start for the next three games.
Harrison Smith is still the (hit)man. He’s having a good season and remains the glue that holds the secondary together. However, he has benefitted from the addition of Peterson. It’s added pressure to Smith’s coverage ability, but that’s nothing new for Smith. He just has to step up like he has done in past seasons without the extra help from Peterson he’s gotten this year. I’m not concerned about Zimmer’s ability to scheme safety help over the top, considering who he has on the roster this season.
In some ways, it’s lucky that Peterson’s injury came while the team is heading into their bye. Yes, it essentially adds a week to IR since they won’t be playing one of the three games, but now the team has extra time for adjustments. Zimmer can take advantage of this to get Dantzler and/or Kris Boyd up to speed. He’s notoriously hard on young corners, but this is their opportunity for playing time.
Dantzler will probably start, and everyone will see how far he’s progressed from his rookie season. For everyone’s sake, let’s hope he doesn’t spend too much time on Twitter. He’s got some big shoes to fill. Everyone will know Peterson’s value now that he’s gone for a while.