Just like last year, Arizona's Patrick Peterson leads the NFL in punt return yards -- 229 of them through seven games. But his average, 8.8 yards, puts him in the middle of the pack and he hasn't had any of the explosive touchdown returns that marked his rookie season. In fact, his longest return this year is just 26 yards.
The reason? Opponents are playing scared.
"They're not giving me a chance, really, honestly," Peterson said in a conference call today. "They're putting the ball close on the sidelines so they can ... kind of bottle me on the sideline and vise me in versus giving me the whole field to work with."
Against the Vikings, for example, Peterson said Minnesota traded 30-yard punts along the sideline in exchange for making sure Peterson didn't get loose. The Cardinals cornerback said he's hoping the 49ers' Andy Lee, who was named the NFC's special teams player of the week today after helping snuff out the Seahawks return game Thursday, will challenge him more than previous foes.
"At the end of the day, as a punt returner, that's what I want," said Peterson, who had four punt returns for touchdowns last year. "I want the guys to try to challenge me by punting the ball deep and me getting the ball with a little bit of time to scan the field and see where my guys are. That's my goal."
Peterson called Lee "probably the best punter" in The NFL. And he said gunners C.J. Spillman and Chris Culliver are excellent at getting down field quickly and steering return men into the teeth of the coverage. But he also said he'd be content if the 49ers follow the pattern this year and simply minimize the potential damage that Peterson can inflict.
"That's kind of what I wanted -- for teams to have that type of respect for me," he said. "At the end of the day, that means I'm doing my job to the best of my ability and I have a lot of respect from my peers and the coaching staffs and teams from around the league. I think it's a compliment."
-- Matt Barrows