<
>

Cardinals CB Justin Bethel getting used to being picked on

play
Can Cardinals slow down Aaron Rodgers again? (1:05)

Cardinals safety Rashad Johnson breaks down how Arizona plans to stop Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. (1:05)

TEMPE, Ariz. -- There are a few guarantees in life.

Taxes are one. Death is another. And Arizona Cardinals cornerback Justin Bethel getting picked on by quarterbacks is the third.

Bethel has become a favorite target for quarterbacks to throw against when he’s on the field, which has been more often since safety Tyrann Mathieu went down for the season with an ACL injury in Week 15. In Bethel’s four starts this season -- three of which were in place of injured cornerback Jerraud Powers -- he leads the NFL with 34 pass attempts thrown at him, according to Pro Football Focus.

In Bethel’s last two games, Weeks 16 and 17, both of which were starts as Powers moved to slot corner to replace Mathieu and Bethel started at outside corner, Bethel was targeted a league-high 22 times.

That’s what happens when you’re an inexperienced corner. That’s also what happens when All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson is lined up across the field.

“Ain’t nothing really you can do about it,” Bethel said. “Just go out there and be ready and be ready for them and prepare and just know that, for me, I’m going to have some chances to make some plays.”

Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers knows that all too well.

In Week 16 in Arizona, Rodgers threw at Bethel a season-high 14 times, testing the three-time special teams Pro Bowler as often as he could. Bethel allowed seven catches for 75 yards in the Cardinals’ 38-8 blowout and intercepted Rodgers in the end zone late in the second quarter.

Rodgers will get another opportunity to pick on Bethel Saturday, when the Cardinals host the Packers in an NFC divisional playoff game at 8:15 p.m. ET. The Packers don’t have to come out and say it, or open up their playbook to prove it.

“That’s where most balls are going,” coach Bruce Arians said. “They’ll still test Patrick, but a majority of the time, when it’s one-on-one both sides, it’s going the other way.”

And it’s helped Bethel develop as a corner.

Heading into this season, he had 103 career defensive snaps -- total. In 2015, Bethel played 419 snaps and got the first four starts of his career. The extra attention opposing quarterbacks have given Bethel has done nothing but help the 25-year-old, who had been targeted nine times in his first three seasons. He was thrown at 66 times this season -- which have led to two interceptions, the first of which came on his first defensive play of the season, and a pick-six.

“I’m more of a guy of repetitions,” Bethel said. “The more you get, the more comfortable you get. You get used to seeing patterns, you get used to seeing what people are trying to do to you.

“I’d definitely say yes, it’s nice to get the reps and get the balls thrown at you because you learn how to change your technique or whatever you have to do to get better.”

Experience -- both snaps and getting thrown at -- will be critical for Bethel’s development, defensive coordinator James Bettcher said.

There are a few areas where both Bettcher and Arians want to see Bethel improve. One is his technique, Bettcher said. Another is his stamina.

“He just needs to not get so damn tired,” Arians said. “He was tired after the punt coverage (against Seattle). He’s going to get thrown at, so he better get used to it.”

Powers has had a front-row seat to Bethel’s development since arriving in Arizona in 2013. Two things have stood out to Powers: How Bethel competes despite being constantly thrown at and how his confidence has not wavered. While the veteran Powers has stayed in Bethel’s ear, he tries to limit his advice to “keep competing.”

“He’s got so many people in his ear from coaches to the Twitter thugs and Instagram thugs all attacking him,” Powers said. “You give up a 10-yard catch and they think you’re the worst corner in the league and Pat breaks up a three-yard slant and then they’re like, ‘why can’t you do it like Pat does it?’

“It’s just one of those things. We understand the nature of our business and what comes with it.”

But in some ways, Bethel should be honored by it all. Getting picked on -- both on and off the field -- can be seen as a rite of passage, Powers said.

“It’s just the first time in his career that the volume of targets is coming at him,” Powers said. “That’s what happens. Once you grow as a corner and you’ve been in this league a little bit, you’re going to get targeted. You’re going to have your stretch of the game, you’re going to be targeted a little bit. My first year here, I was targeted a lot.

“It’s just a matter of you making the plays.”