SANTA CLARA -- Only three of Andy Lee's 749 career punts have been returned for touchdowns against the 49ers. Patrick Peterson is a certified threat to do so Monday night when his Arizona Cardinals host the first-place 49ers.
Peterson returned four punts for touchdowns last season as a rookie. He has the moves, speed and mindset of any dangerous returner. He's also due.
Peterson's size-12 cleats are seeking his first touchdown this season, having mainly faced bottle-necked coverage in his 26 returns for a league-high 229 yards.
"They're not giving me a chance, honestly," Peterson said of opponents' strategies. "They want to bottle me up on the sideline, so everybody can vice me in and keep me in one area."
Lee endorsed that strategy and suggested every team would be wise to try confining Peterson to the sideline.
"Does it mean if you hit one down the middle he's going to return it for a touchdown?" Lee asked. "No, but you'd give him a chance and a better view of the whole field."
Prior to the 49ers' Oct. 18 win over Seattle, they proved extremely vulnerable to big-time returns, as evident by Randall Cobb's 75-yard return for a touchdown in the season opener at Green Bay.
The only other punts returned for touchdown since Lee's tenure began in 2004: Kansas City's Dante Hall in 2006, and Cleveland's Joshua Cribbs in 2007.
Lee sustained a broken right thumb when he landed awkwardly trying to tackle Cobb in the
On Tuesday, Lee received NFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors, having pinned the Seahawks inside their own 20-yard line on 4 of 5 punts in the 13-6 victory.
Peterson presents a formidable challenge, one that long snapper Brian Jennings began working on when they were both in Hawaii for the last Pro Bowl. Jennings advised Peterson to fair catch every of Lee's punts this season.
"It's a friendship test," Jennings quipped. "We're going to find out this weekend how he regards our friendship."
While Peterson called Lee "probably the best punter" in the NFL, he also praised the coverage team's speed and last season's gunners, C.J. Spillman and Chris Culliver. Tramaine Brock has replaced Culliver as this season's gunner opposite Spillman.
Peterson averaged 9.4 yards on seven returns against the 49ers last season, none longer than a 19-yard effort in the Cardinals' 21-19 comeback win over the visiting 49ers.
The 49ers' speed on punt coverage can force a fair catch or disrupt a return's ideal direction, Peterson said.
Aside from his return duties, Peterson is working on his cornerback skills, which Alex Smith targeted multiple times last season.
"He worked very hard in the offseason as far techniques, and how he has to play certain guys, and what he can and can not get away with," Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said.
Davis hasn't scored since catching four touchdown passes in the first three games, and he didn't have a pass come his way in the 49ers' last game, a 13-6 win Oct. 18 against Seattle.
"They come in and say, 'Vernon Davis will not beat us.' We're very cognizant of that," Roman said. "Once a game starts, you get a feel of what they're trying to minimize."
After getting shut out against the Seahawks, Davis said defenses are taking away his "explosive routes," and that he's not letting any frustration affect him. The 49ers have specific plays designed for Davis, but Roman said coverages dictate where the ball goes.