Marquee matchup: Lions' Megatron vs. Cards' Peterson
Allen Park — Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson has a "big level of respect" for Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson, and the two will likely be locked in an All-Pro competition for most of Sunday's game in Arizona.
"I'm sure they'll be matched up," Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. "I don't know if it'll be all the time, but it'll be matched up quite a bit."
Regardless of the play-to-play alignment, a key matchup in the battle for early NFC pole position between the Lions (7-2) and Cardinals (8-1) will be the Lions' top two receivers — Johnson and Golden Tate — against Arizona's top two cornerbacks — Peterson and Antonio Cromartie.
After missing three games and being limited in two others because of a high-ankle-sprain, Johnson has just 29 catches for 461 yards, but he had seven catches for 113 yards in his return to the lineup in Week 10.
Last year, Johnson had six catches for 116 yards and two touchdowns against Arizona, and in 2012, he had 10 for 121. He credited play calling and preparation for his individual success, but Peterson's team won both games — and he had an interception in the 2012 contest.
"I expect it to be more of the same, a great battle," Johnson said.
Johnson said he expects to see a steady dose of Peterson and Cromartie this weekend, but there's a good chance the Cardinals will use Cromartie on Tate. With Johnson limited this year, Tate has filled the No. 1 receiver role already has career highs with 66 catches for 909 yards. He's averaging 101 yards per game.
"He's a heck of a player, and he's a great run-after-the-catch guy," Arians said. "Whoever draws that one has got a physical guy that plays with a linebacker mentality. I love the way he plays."
Although the Cardinals rank 30th in passing yards allowed per game, they have one of the most talented secondaries in the NFL.
In addition to the talented cornerbacks, strong safety Tony Jefferson is second on the team in tackles, and second-year safety Tyrann Mathieu appears fully recovered from his torn ACL last year.
"He brings back a spirit and an energy that's unbelievable and also ball hawking skills," Arians said of Mathieu. "I think he was so tentative early in the season on that knee. He didn't want to make us a play that cost us a game. Now, I think he's comfortable enough to take the risks, and he's always been a risk taker.
"He has some of the best instincts I've ever seen, especially a young player."