All eyes will be on Richard Sherman when he takes the field on Sunday for Super Bowl XLVIII. He and the Seahawks’ “Legion of Boom” against the Broncos’ offense is an intriguing matchup. Peyton Manning, Demaryius Thomas, and company might look to test Sherman – he’s a great player, but nobody’s perfect on the field.
Sherman has evolved into one of the league’s best players and perhaps the best cornerback. His size (6’3″) and speed make him difficult to beat. Sherman likes to jump routes – he’s a ball hawk. That’s a reason why he’s led the league in interceptions (20) since he entered the NFL in 2011.
Here’s a look at one of them, from earlier this year: Sherman is playing coverage on Texans tight end Owen Daniels (below).
Sherman sees Schaub trying to hit Daniels on the hitch/out tight end option. Sherman sees that, and begins to make a jump on the ball:
The result? Sherman picks the ball off.
He returns it 58 yards for the touchdown which sends the game into overtime. Seattle won 23-20 thanks to this play.
Schaub made a bad throw, but it was a bad decision to start off with. He was under pressure, but he never should’ve thrown that pass. Sherman jumped the route and timed it perfectly.
But watch the play closely, and you’ll see Sherman make his break on the ball before it’s actually thrown. If the play was designed to be an out-and-up for Daniels, it’s a touchdown. Schaub gets Sherman with a hard pump fake, Sherman jumps the route, and Schaub hits Daniels for a touchdown. Yes, there was pressure, but stepping up into the pocket rather than rolling out would’ve bought him more time. Click here to view a video of the play.
Later in the season, the Vikings beat Sherman with a double move.
Receiver Jarius Wright runs an out-and-up:
Sherman bites on the route, coming up to grab what he believes will be an interception. But Wright plants left, turns it upfield, and has a step on Sherman:
Sherman knows he’s just been beat, and tries to grab Wright to prevent him from scoring. He fails to do so, and Wright, with his speed, burns Sherman for a 38 yard score. Click here to watch a video of the play.
That’s a significant amount of separation in the picture above. Speed, scheme, and play design got the best of Sherman here. The Broncos have all of that in Demaryius Thomas, Peyton Manning, and their offensive coordinator Adam Gase.
Stretching the ball deep isn’t a good idea against the Seahawks’ secondary without any wrinkles or elite speed. Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas, or any other player on the Hawks’ defense will make a play. The Giants tried it multiple times when they hosted the Seahawks. Here’s one of them.
Eli Manning is looking for Hakeem Nicks down the sideline. It’s just a go route, nothing else. Sherman is locked up in man-to-man coverage on Nicks:
Nicks runs the go route, and Manning throws the ball with Sherman locked on him. Sherman easily ends up with the interception down the sideline. Click here to watch a video of the play.
Hakeem Nicks is big, but not very fast. His 40 yard dash time is the same as that of Alfred Morris. Nicks doesn’t have elite speed, but Demaryius Thomas does – in fact, just comparing 40 times, Thomas is 0.25 seconds faster than Nicks.
Even someone with decent speed – not as fast as Thomas, but still good speed – has the ability to burn Sherman deep. In the 2012-13 playoff game between the Falcons and Seahawks, Roddy White showed us just that.
On this deep post route, White has a step on Sherman, although it’s difficult to make out in this shot:
It appears that Sherman slips inside the 10 yard line, but that was a result of his failed attempt to grab hold of White to prevent him from scoring:
White made the catch in the end zone for a 47 yard touchdown. Click here to watch a video of the play.
The film doesn’t lie – Sherman is a great corner. But there are areas where he can be beat. It takes speedy receivers, well designed plays, and some wit to beat him. The Broncos have all of that.