Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson said Thursday that receiver DeAndre Hopkins and cornerback Jalen Ramsey can't seem to get away from each other.
Sunday, when the Cardinals host the Los Angeles Rams, will be the eighth battle between the two All-Pros in five seasons. The difference is they have now taken their rivalry from the south to the southwest.
Ramsey was drafted fifth overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2016, landing in Hopkins’ division, as he was with the Houston Texans. They both made the All-Pro team for the first time in 2017.
"That's football, no one stays on the same team forever, but I'm looking forward to going against him," Hopkins said Friday.
According to multiple reports, Rams safety John Johnson said this week that Hopkins will be Ramsey’s “duty” on Sunday.
"That's what the game is all about, when the best of the best are competing against each other and trying to make each other better," Peterson said. "I'm expecting it to be an extremely challenging matchup between both guys. But, I'll definitely have my popcorn, watching it from the sideline for sure."
Peterson said Hopkins is a physical receiver with great ball skills. He's proven that with one dropped pass in 103 targets this year.
Arizona's star corner called his younger Rams counterpart physical too, someone who gets his hands on the receiver at the line and has the speed to keep up.
Rams head coach Sean McCoy said Ramsey likely won’t be on Hopkins every snap, that his versatility as a defender is needed in other areas too, but it will still be a top-tier battle.
"You definitely don’t want to be so predictable that the only thing he’s doing is just traveling around with DeAndre all day," McVay said. "Those two have tremendous respect for one another. They’re two of the best in the world at what they do. That’s what you love about the NFL is getting these five-star matchups between these two types of players on Sundays."
Their first matchup was in Week 10 of 2016. Hopkins caught five passes on 13 targets for just 48 yards while playing with quarterback Brock Osweiler.
Hopkins' numbers in their other battles: eight catches for 87 yards, seven for 55, four for 80, three for 50, 12 for 147 and five for 40 yards last season in Week 2 before Ramsey was traded to L.A.
Their duels on film have shown to be physical, a struggle for Hopkins to break free of the quicker cornerback while using his elite route-running and hands skills to come away with tough grabs.
This one-handed catch was purely a case of a better offensive play beats good defense.
Hopkins mentioned last year to Houston reporters that Ramsey was his favorite corner to face because of the challenge.
"He's my favorite corner to play against. He's the only corner in the NFL that actually follows me everywhere I go," he said.
Ramsey said last year, " (Hopkins) had a 99 rating overall in Madden. That's damn near unguardable. That's pretty much like what it is in real life. It's tough."
Per Pro Football Focus, Hopkins has gained more yards on Ramsey than any other receiver in the league for his career and is tied for the most touchdowns with a whopping two.
Ramsey was mic’d up while facing Hopkins in 2017. Texans backup quarterback T.J. Yates was in the game for Houston and he struggled mightily, leading to a Ramsey triumph. Still, Hopkins managed to make a couple of tough catches, leading Ramsey to say, “He’s not going to outrun me but he’s a good receiver nonetheless so I have to play real.”
The new caveat this time is that Hopkins has Kyler Murray throwing him the football.
With Murray under center, Hopkins has four 125-yard games. He’s only done that one other time, in 2018, and there are five games left this year.
His last two games since catching the “Hail Murray” against Buffalo in Week 10 have been quiet for his standards, with 10 catches and 106 yards in two weeks.
The Cardinals offense has struggled as a whole as the run game has stalled. But, running back Kenyan Drake gave a clue of what the Cardinals will need to do to stretch the field when opponents keep stacking the box.
"When they do (load the box), then that makes them one-dimensional," Drake said. "Allows guys like the D-Hop, our tight ends, Christian Kirk, Dan Arnold, everybody else outside even running backs in the backfield to thrive in one-on-one situations."
If the Rams set up with a six-man or even seven-man front like New England did last week, the Cardinals could need Murray to command more of an Air Raid and find his targets like Hopkins and Kirk more. He said this week that he doesn't need to run to be successful.
L.A.’s defense has had a stellar season, allowing the second-fewest total yards and passing yards per game. Ramsey has been a big part of that. PFF measures that he allowed the second-lowest yards per coverage snaps in the league last week.
Spraying the ball all over the field will be difficult given how strong the Rams' pass rush and coverage have been.
That's where having Hopkins can be handy. If he gets one-on-ones with Ramsey, it will be up to him to break free and give the Cardinals a jolt. He's done it multiple times this year, but this could be his greatest challenge against a corner that has seen his moves a lot.
"This is going to be another Clash of the Titans," Peterson said.
On 98.7 FM Friday, Cardinals general manager Steve Keim added, "No doubt that watching (Hopkins) and Jalen Ramsey will be one of those deals where you put your feet up and grab the popcorn and let's roll."