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Patrick Peterson credits film study, weight loss for best start of his career

TEMPE, Ariz. -- It’s a conversation that’s starting to become routine for Patrick Peterson.

When he takes the field for warmups, the opposing offensive coordinator or a member of the opposing offensive coaching staff seeks out the Arizona Cardinals Pro Bowl cornerback.

“They always say: ‘Oh man, you look lighter. I think we need to stay away from you. You look a little lighter on your feet,’” Peterson said.

Teams are staying away from Peterson more this season than they have his first four. He’s been thrown at 18 times through the first five games -- six of which came Sunday in Detroit -- according to Pro Football Focus, the fewest of his career by 10. He’s allowed just 133 passing yards in five games, the sixth best in the NFL this season for cornerbacks who have played at least 60 percent of his team’s defensive snaps. He had allowed 85 yards in his first four games -- an average of 21.25 per game -- before giving up 48 in Detroit on Sunday.

“That’s crazy,” Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “That’s crazy. He covers the best receiver on every team and every team has a pretty good receiver.

“That says a lot about what he’s been doing, not just in September, but all the months leading up to it.”

A week and a half after last season ended, Peterson began working out again.

It was the shortest break he’d given himself in his four NFL offseasons, but he knew it had to be done. He put on weight last year, and it slowed him down. He needed to start taking it off as soon as he physically could. He changed his diet, partly a result of Peterson’s battle with Type 2 diabetes last season, and began running more.

He reported to training camp at 203 pounds, the lowest weight of his professional career. He was listed at 219 by the Cardinals last season.

It didn’t take him long to notice a difference.

“I feel now that I’m in a position that I wasn’t in last year to make those plays because I felt that I was just a little bit too heavy,” Peterson said. “As a cornerback, you have to be as light as possible on your feet. You have to make sure you have fluent hips and a great change of direction.

“When I put that weight on last year, I wasn’t able to do some of the things that I wanted to do in the year prior. So now that I am down to my lowest weight since I’ve been in the NFL, I feel unbelievable.”

Peterson’s 2014 has been well documented.

As he worked on controlling his blood sugar, his play came under intense scrutiny. It was a result of his sub-par numbers and the five-year, $70 million extension he signed in 2014. He allowed eight touchdowns and 743 yards on 54 receptions in 2014 -- the latter two were the most he’s given up since his rookie season.

Even though he still made the Pro Bowl, it was un-Peterson-like.

It also became one of his driving factors, his teammates said.

“I’ve never seen him this focused this before,” Mathieu said.

Quarterback Carson Palmer has seen a more energetic Peterson in practice this year. He sees a player who’s “playing like every play is his last play, practicing like this is his last practice.”

I think last year, some of the things that were said about him left a chip on his shoulder,” Palmer said. “And it shows.”

Fellow cornerback Jerraud Powers sees Peterson taking his assignments more personal this season. He thought the criticism of Peterson last season was unfair just because he allowed more catches than most people were accustomed to seeing. Powers can understand how that could drive Peterson to “prove people wrong again.”

But Peterson knew there was more to change than his weight.

He came into this season with better study habits, Powers said. Peterson began spending more time in the film room, not just watching tape of receivers from this season, but also how Peterson played them in the past. It’s resulted in a better understanding of route combinations, he said. Peterson said he’s also more patient this year.

Mathieu said Peterson comes to practice every day with “CliffsNotes” from his film study.

“I think now that I am in Year 5, I feel like I really, really turned the corner this year,” Peterson said. “I believe that I had an eye-opening year last year relying on athletic ability seven out of 10 times on the field. Now, it’s all mental. I definitely take my preparation more serious than I did over the past first four years.

“I think that’s the biggest difference.”

By all but erasing an offense’s No. 1 receiver, Peterson is, at times, also eliminating at least a third of the field -- the same type of effect Richard Sherman and Darrelle Revis have on their defenses. Its trickle-down effect has helped the Cardinals blitz more in 2015 than they did in 2014. It also allows new defensive coordinator James Bettecher to rotate coverages or focus on other players on the field.

It’s also given Mathieu, one of Peterson’s closest friends on the team, more work.

The Honey Badger may get even busier over the next couple of months. Peterson has an unenviable October, facing Detroit’s Calvin Johnson on Sunday, followed by Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown in consecutive weeks. Then he’ll have Cleveland’s Travis Benjamin in Week 8 and Cincinnati’s A.J. Green in Week 11.

Before he can worry about Benjamin and Green in November, he has to focus on October.

“October, I believe is the real tale of the tape month for me,” Peterson said.

Peterson embraces facing the league’s top receivers. Cornerbacks coach Kevin Ross stoked the fire a bit this week, telling Peterson that interceptions alone won’t get him on the road to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It’s becoming increasingly more about how many yards corners are giving up.

Just like losing weight, just like proving people wrong, this is another challenge for Peterson.

“He had a slump season last year,” Mathieu said. “Have too many of those and people forget about you.

“I know for him, being the best is important.”