In not many professions does one calling another a “monster” sound so complimentary.
But if you saw the look on Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson’s face, you’d know how much respect he holds for Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton.
Peterson and Newton all but grew up together in football. They starred simultaneously in the SEC, with Newton leading Auburn to the national championship and Peterson shining at Louisiana State.
They entered the NFL in the same draft, Newton selected first and Peterson fifth in 2011. They played their first NFL game against each other, and Sunday’s NFC Championship Game will be their fourth pro matchup.
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Peterson said this was destined to be.
“No question. I knew we would have the opportunity to play against each other numerous times,” Peterson said Wednesday. “Him having the career he had in college, me having the career I had in college, it was pretty much certain we were going to be in the NFL for a long time and make some noise early in our careers. To be in the same class as Cam Newton was an honor. To go up against him for the fourth time is huge.
“I have a good familiarity with Cam: How he runs and how he likes to throw the ball. His progressions, his reads. I have a good understanding of the player. This is probably the biggest game so far in both our careers. We hope to give our teams the edge to move on.”
Of course, knowing Newton’s game is a far shot from stopping Newton’s game. The 6-1, 203-pound Peterson has plenty of experience being run over by Newton. There is a famous play from college where Newton dragged Peterson into the end zone that made Peterson look like he was made of feathers.
So that term “monster” in describing Newton’s dimensions and aggression? Peterson has some expertise for sure.
“He is a monster, per se, at the quarterback position. Being 6-6 who can run for whatever, being the physical specimen that he is brings some special challenges. And he’s truly grown as a passer and a leader,” Peterson said.
So how does one tackle him?
“Being 6-6 and 260 and getting downfield against DBs like me, that’s a very tough task,” Peterson said. “For me, I just try to tie his shoestrings for him, try to trip him up a bit. He’s a big, big human being so you can’t take him on up top. He’ll definitely make you miss that tackle. For a DB it’s all about taking out his legs. You can’t run without your legs.”
Peterson says there are two Cams; at midfield, once he crosses the first down marker, he’s satisfied to slide and avoid a collision. It’s a very different Cam once the Panthers offense reaches the red zone.
“In the red zone, that’s when he’s looking to do that little dab celebration,” Peterson said. “He’s trying to pass on the pain so he can then pass on the ball to the children in the stands.”
Peterson said Newton was always special and distinctive as a runner. It’s the passing that has improved so much in the NFL, particularly the long ball.
“Cam Newton has a very, very strong arm. Now that he has speed on the outside (with Ted Ginn Jr. and Philly Brown) he can just let that ball ride,” Peterson said. “The biggest thing for me is not giving up the deep ball. Those guys thrive off that running game so much that the next thing they want to do is play-action for deep shots. That’s what we have to eliminate.”
The Cardinals haven’t said much this week about their playoff loss a year ago in Charlotte. Peterson opened up Wednesday on what a bitter memory that is.
“It motivated this whole organization a ton. We felt we were right there, winning that game. It was a very disappointing moment leaving that stadium,” Peterson said. “We knew if we’d had a healthy quarterback, if we’d eliminated the turnovers, we had a good chance to win that game.
“It’s a different team we’re facing up there. And they’re going to face a different team as well. This is the healthiest we’ve been in a long time and to go into the NFC Championship Game with your starting quarterback (Carson Palmer) gives us a little more relief.”
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; @rick_bonnell