- Michael Rothstein, ESPN Staff Writer
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ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- They lined up against each other in the Arizona air and didn’t say much. In one of the premier individual matchups in the NFL last season -- one commencing again this Sunday -- both players were gassed.
“Shoot, we weren’t really talking a lot,” Calvin Johnson said. “Because there was a lot of running going on. A lot of heavy breathing.”
This type of matchup is one Johnson, often considered the best receiver in the game, craves. A year ago, he put up big numbers against Patrick Peterson, catching 10 passes for 121 yards, but Arizona beat Detroit, 38-10.
Those 10 catches, though, came on 17 targets. That’s part of the danger of going against Peterson, who had an interception against Detroit last year. Even if a receiver puts up numbers, it’ll likely take a lot to reach it.
Peterson is one of the few cornerbacks in the league who won’t need help on a play-by-play basis on Johnson. There will be times, despite what last year’s statistics say, where Peterson will be able to stay with him.
Not many others can say that. Then again, not every corner is considered the best in the NFL. That’s how Arizona coach Bruce Arians views Peterson. Alone against each other they will go.
“You have to have a lot of confidence in him,” Arians said. “They’re two great athletes. Calvin is special and so is Patrick. We’re going to put him in that situation.
“You can’t always single-cover the guy, but you have to be able to mix-and-match it.”
Peterson is able to single-cover Johnson at times because of his size -- 6-foot-1, 219 pounds -- along with his speed and his coverage skills. Johnson explained Peterson often tries to use his size to press receivers and he has the speed to catch up to a receiver if he doesn’t jam him on the line.
It is a challenge Johnson likes.
“It brings out the best in competitors,” Johnson said. “When you get to go against the best, you know.
“Especially when you get one-on-one coverage. I view it as an opportunity.”
Last season gave him some idea of how Peterson might approach him. He also figures to potentially see more single coverage Sunday than he will in many other games this season.
Not that Johnson’s teammates are worried about it.
“I’m not really concerned about Calvin going against Pat,” Detroit receiver Nate Burleson said. “Pat is a really, really good cornerback. He’s one of the best in the league.
“But I think Calvin is the best in the world. Period. When Calvin gets an opportunity against Pat, you know I’ve got faith in Calvin.”
Much like Arizona has similar confidence in Peterson.
Johnson seems excited about the matchup. The way Peterson defends impressed him enough he joked he almost plays like a receiver. The Cardinals have a 60-play package for Peterson on offense along with his defensive and special teams responsibilities.
Arians said Peterson’s defensive responsibilities often dictate how much offense he’ll play.
“He’s a guy that, when you have a playmaker like that, you want to put the ball in his hands,” Detroit coach Jim Schwartz said. “We’ve just got to be alert any time 21 comes on the field. We have to do our jobs and make sure he doesn’t make a big play in the game.”
On offense. Or on defense. Or on special teams.
Of course, Peterson won’t face a receiver like Johnson every week. So perhaps Arizona will keep him on defense so he can stay fresh against one of the best receivers in the game.
Either way, it’s a matchup even Johnson’s teammates want to see.
“I’m looking forward to it, too, man,” Burleson said. “I like seeing some of the best going up against the best. I got Calvin’s back.
“I’m not a gambling man, but if I was, I’d put my money on Megatron.”