Peterson not alone among down returners

Every NFC West team ranked among the NFL's top 11 in punt-return average last season. Each averaged at least 11.0 yards per return, 1.5 above the average.

Only the San Francisco 49ers have maintained their performance this season. They rank seventh with an 11.3-yard average, down only modestly from 12.4 in 2011.

Top Percentage Declines on Punt Returns

Arizona's inability to spring Patrick Peterson for long returns this season has resulted in a 7.4-yard, 48.6 percent reduction per return this season. Only Chicago has suffered a greater percentage decrease in punt-return average from last season. The Cardinals have fallen from second to 22nd in punt-return average.

The St. Louis Rams rank third in both gross decline (4.5 yards) and percentage decline (40.5 percent). Seattle's average has dropped from 11.1 yards to 8.7, a reduction of 21.4 percent, 10th-greatest in the NFL.

I haven't seen a great explanation for why prolific punt returners see their averages swing wildly from season to season. It's happening for Peterson and the Chicago Bears' Devin Hester this season.

Hester has throughout his career experienced two highly productive seasons at a time, followed by two down seasons. That has happened twice. If the cycle continues, his average will balloon again in 2014, provided he remains a productive player.

Hester is averaging 8.0 yards per return this season after averaging 16.2 (2011), 17.1 (2010), 7.8 (2009), 6.2 (2008), 15.5 (2007) and 12.8 (2006) previously.

Patrick Peterson on Punt Returns

Peterson is averaging 7.7 yards per return with no touchdowns this season, down from 15.9 yards with four touchdowns last season. His 80-yard return for a touchdown in Week 12 last season staked the Cardinals to a 20-10 lead at St. Louis. Arizona won the game, 23-20.

The teams play Sunday, also in Week 12, this time in Arizona.

St. Louis' average has fallen as well, dropping from 11.0 last season to 6.6 this season. Nick Miller, no longer with the team, had an 88-yard touchdown return last season. Greg Salas, also no longer with the team, had a 29-yard return. Austin Pettis, who has only one return this season, had a 9.3-yard average on 15 of them last season.

Danny Amendola leads the Rams this season with an 8.4-yard average and a long return of 22 yards. Janoris Jenkins has a 4.8-yard average on nine returns. Amendola is not expected to play against Arizona. He has a foot injury.