PITTSBURGH -- One of the best things the NFL has to offer is an elite cornerback matching up with elite receiver on a Sunday. This will be the case when Steelers wideout Antonio Brown and Cardinals corner Patrick Peterson face off Sunday at 1 p.m. at Heinz Field.
"It's going to be an intense battle," Brown said.
This matchup is intriguing for five reasons:
• The unique skill sets: Brown might be the league's best route-runner. The way he gets out of his breaks is universally lauded. Peterson has always had top-shelf athleticism and is 3 inches taller than Brown (6-foot-1 to 5-foot-10). At times in his career, including last season, he's looked inconsistent with footwork and anticipation. But as colleague Josh Weinfuss wrote, film study and weight loss have helped Peterson refine this area. We'll see whether Peterson can stay with Brown straight-up. "He's a top-notch corner," Brown said.
• The baiting game: Based on film work, Brown said he believes that Peterson will "come after the ball and play aggressive." Perhaps Brown can use that to his advantage with some stop-and-go plays. He must have chemistry with Mike Vick to do that. But the two are working on their partnership, with Brown asking Vick to trust him more, throw it up and see what happens. Vick will probably try to throw Brown open a few times as opposed to throwing to an open target, which is too easy for NFL defenses to handle.
• Bounce-back game: Brown has 87 yards in his past two games. He's usually good for that in one half. After 35 straight games with at least five catches and at least 50 yards, he's gone two straight without those matching numbers. Brown believes he's the best receiver in the game, and although he needs a quarterback who can get him the ball, a third straight game with sub-50 yardage wouldn't help that argument. Expect an inspired performance from Brown. Expect Vick to get Brown involved toward the sideline, where Brown's footwork is especially impressive.
• Going at each other: The Cardinals expect Peterson to handle one-on-one, island coverage for a reasonable portion of a game. Peterson will probably get some safety help on Brown because he's the first option that defenses try to take away, but there will be moments when Brown faces Peterson one-on-one. "He’s always looking for the best guy to come out of the huddle, and I think he’ll take it as a challenge," Brown said. Will Peterson jam him? Will he sit back and let his athleticism take over? How will Brown counter Peterson's moves? These questions will be answered Sunday.
• Both players will have the ball in their hands: Brown and Peterson both return punts for their squads, which means they will put in a full day's work. Brown might field a punt, take it 20 yards, get tackled, pop up and see Peterson in front of him, ready to cover. That's where the fun begins.