Most Wednesday nights, the constant offer to the Vikings’ young cornerbacks is that their eight-time Pro Bowler teammate will cook them dinner and tell them his secrets.
Patrick Peterson calls for menu requests on Tuesdays. Cameron Dantzler, the student who inspired Peterson to make this a weekly ritual, is “a chicken wings guy.” Peterson also usually whips up a pasta dish. The players eat together at the 32-year-old cornerback’s house and watch a quarter or two of the NBA games that are currently on TV while they eat. Then they study film for 75 minutes.
The group reviews all of the Vikings’ first and second-down passes, talks about pre-snap alignments on the team’s defensive calls, and discusses how wide receiver movement might affect coverage on a given play. Again and again, the film of a particular play leads them back to the same question.
“‘How did you know this was coming?'” says Peterson, laughing.
After 181 career games, he knows where to find the answers. He scans footage of opposing crimes like a forensic scientist searching a crime scene for clues, discovering clues in a receiver’s orientation or where the ball is placed on the field. These clues are why Peterson, the fifth pick in 2011, is the only one of the 53 defensemen in his draft class remaining in the NFL in the midst of a resurgent season at a position most of his contemporaries precede have ceded to the Youngsters for a long time. They’re what his teammates show up for every week.
“All offenses are the same; they just dress it up differently now,” Peterson said. “Sixty games in one game; They do 60 by 180, that’s a lot of snapshots. I’ve seen it so many times it’s like running for me. I want to pass that on to these guys.”
His reasons for sharing everything with a group of players who will sooner or later replace him are largely altruistic. Peterson has told his wife Antonique he will be done playing football in “three years, at the most”. Broadcasting, not coaching, sparks his interest as an aftercareer path that could buy him more time at home with his two daughters. So the final years of his playing career are opportunities for Peterson to share experiences and leave the game better than he found it.
There’s an implied advantage for Peterson, especially when a pass defense that gave up the second-most yards in the league begins to gel. Those 181 career games include only three in the postseason. This Vikings team could potentially guarantee him a fourth as early as Sunday. He wants a fifth, a sixth, as many as it takes for this season to end with Peterson celebrating a Super Bowl win at the Arizona stadium where he played for a decade.
“I literally pray for this every day: asking the Lord to give me the strength to go through my teammates and help them bring out the best in them,” he said. “And I’m not just telling them what to do. I want to lead by example by continuing to show them, ‘Okay, this guy puts all his energy into me – I don’t want to underestimate him or myself.'”
Peterson is a trusted conduit for defensive backs coach Daronte Jones and a valuable point of contact for six-time Pro Bowl safety Harrison Smith, who prefers to let Peterson do the talking when something needs to be said. The cornerback still holds his own with special teams players in the Vikings’ almost daily fastest man competitions; He then talks to young players about how he kept his body in shape to beat them at the age of 32.
Few match his NFL level of success. Jordan Hicks, his Arizona and Minnesota teammate, said few are as intentional as Peterson when it comes to sharing it.
“I think that makes him a favorite player to play with and just someone that young people can always lean on,” Hicks said. “It’s priceless. The quicker you can see things like that and think the way a future Hall of Famer thinks, that’s something you can’t get anywhere.”
“Why don’t you show him everything he needs?”
Peterson occasionally watched films starring Dantzler and cornerback Kris Boyd in the Vikings facility in 2021. After giving up the game-winning touchdown on Amon-Ra St. Brown in the Vikings’ loss to the winless Lions last December, Dantzler immediately texted Peterson to ask him what he had done wrong. Peterson, who was watching the game from home on the COVID-19 list, told Dantzler he played too deep in the end zone.
Her lyrics continued throughout the offseason, but her tone changed. Dantzler repeatedly told Peterson how hungry he was to take the next step.
“I’m like, ‘He wants it, so why don’t you give it to him?'” Peterson said. “Why not show him everything he needs to be successful in this league?”
Peterson’s cache of young corners is undisputed. Rookie Akayleb Evans, who will face Peterson against the Jets on Sunday, grew up with Peterson as his favorite player; Evans chose No. 21 because Peterson wore it in Arizona. When Jones was defensive coordinator at LSU, he queued highlights from Peterson for players like Derek Stingley, who was selected in the first round, to see them.
Jones mentions some specific items Peterson is scheduled to cover in his Wednesday night meetings. Otherwise he lets Peterson plan the evening.
“I don’t have any children, but I’m sure if a parent tells a child to do something, their peers do [saying it] will hit home harder,” Jones said. “And besides, he can give it to them from a player’s perspective. He can tell them why he can skip certain things and how he knows what to expect.”
When players ask him how he knew what was coming on a particular play, Peterson gives them a step-by-step process that he has long used to take most of the guesswork out.
By paying attention to where the ball is sighted, how many receivers the offense has on either side of the offensive line, and how close those receivers are aligned to the formation, Peterson said he can shorten the list of possible routes his opponent could be running from 10 to three or four.
If the ball is on the hash closest to him, Peterson said, and the receiver is in tight formation, “there are only three routes he can run: an under, a speed out, and a 7- Cut.” If the ball is on the opposite hash and the receiver is close, “I’m like, ‘Well, drive concept; inside-breaking routes.’
“Nine times out of ten, I have a sense of what’s coming. So now I’ll play for it – unless he shows me otherwise [route] “Said Peterson. “If he doesn’t give me what I’m looking for initially, I’m like, ‘Now I have to play my leverage.’ When I’m in a single high [safety]I want to play outside and direct everything back to my safety, back to the center of the field.”
The moments he saw things click in the other corners of the Vikings were among Peterson’s favorites of the year.
Against the Patriots on Thanksgiving night, Duke Shelley was the fourth corner to start against Peterson this season due to injury. In the final game of the first half, Shelley lined up for press receiver Kendrick Bourne after speaking with Peterson about how the Patriots would check for a fade route any time they were faced with press coverage near the goal line . Shelley positioned himself directly across from Bourne on the line of scrimmage; Bourne ran the fade route Shelley expected, and Shelley cut the pass, forcing New England to settle for a field goal.
“It makes you even more excited because it’s like, ‘I can do this,'” Shelley said. “It’s not the physical part of the game; this is the mental part of the game that can give you an advantage. Anyone can queue up and study the game and kind of know what’s going on if you’re serious about your craft.”
“I knew it was going to be something special”
Given the idea that watching Peterson at age 32 could fool young players into believing anyone can copy him, Jones responds with a knowing laugh.
“When I’m a young guy and I see him [running fastest-man competitions]”Of course I think I can,” Jones said. “But that is not the case.”
Changing the Vikings’ defensive scheme this season has eased the strain on Peterson’s body by asking him to push receivers and follow them around the field less often. Instead, he can play more snaps with his eyes on the quarterback and position himself to disrupt or intercept passes.
“I think it’s definitely something that can make my career so much longer,” he said.
In 11 games since 2013, he has broken more passes (12) than in any season, and his three interceptions are the most since 2012. He will be a free agent again after the season, though he has said he wants to end his career in Minnesota . After his first few days with new coach Kevin O’Connell, Peterson knew he was in for a season to remember.
“Knowing the players – just the players alone – that we were going to come back, I knew it was going to be special,” he said. “We just needed the right man to guide us. That was it.”
O’Connell called Peterson “one of those gold-standard captains that doesn’t get talked about much. You can’t talk about his impact on our team without talking about it first.”
Evans once called Peterson his favorite player. Now he also calls him a mentor.
“Sometimes I feel like guys are almost afraid to ask certain questions, especially if it’s someone you look up to,” Evans said. “But the first day I met him, when I told him I wanted to learn from him, he was very open with me. He was a huge resource.”