Gone are the days when one could criticize Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman for not covering the opposing team’s best receiver. Fans of other cornerbacks would argue, “Yeah, but Sherman only plays one side of the field…” Over the past year and half that has changed quite a bit.
In that span Sherman has gone one-on-one for the majority of the game against these receivers: the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Antonio Brown, the Cincinnati Bengals’ A.J. Green, the Dallas Cowboys’ Dez Bryant (all in 2015) and last week versus the New York Jets’ Brandon Marshall.
Richard Sherman has also gone up against a few lesser receivers as well, like the San Francisco 49ers’ Torrey Smith. Against Brown, Green, Bryant and Marshall, the opposing quarterbacks threw 12 completions in 34 attempts for a total of 175 yards and one touchdown. Sherman intercepted three of those passes and deflected four others.
Tomorrow, however, may bring the biggest challenge of his professional career. Not only will he mirror Atlanta Falcons receiver Julio Jones for most of the game, but Jones, unlike Marshall in New York, has a quarterback very capable of throwing him open in Matt Ryan.
Jones has already had a 300-yard receiving game this year, week four against the Carolina Panthers when Atlanta scored 48 points. Jones his third in the league through five games this year with 517 yards, just two yards behind Detroit Lions wideout Marvin Jones. Julio is second in yards-per-reception at 21.5 yards per. This in an offense that leads the league in scoring (35 points-per-game), passing (333.4 yards-per-game) and total offense (457.4 yards-per-contest).
The Seahawks, of course, have another excellent defense. Seattle has allowed the fewest yards-per-game in the National Football League at 264 yards per and rank third in the league in points allowed haven given up only 13.5 per contest.
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The biggest key matchup in the game might be Julio Jones versus Richard Sherman. Jones has the size of Marshall at 6’3” and 220 pounds, but appears faster than Brown, Marshall, Bryant or Green. Last game Sherman gave up some early completions against Marshall, one of which was a 41-yard gain that if it had been Jones that caught it may have gone for much longer.
Sherman said after Jones’ game against the Panthers, “Three-hundred? That’s what he had? That’s going to be a big deal. He’s a good friend and it’s going to be a fun matchup battling him.”
On the opposite side, Jones said of Sherman to NFL.com, “He’s very smart. He’s a very smart guy he studies a lot of film…Going against Richard, you have to change up a few tendencies that you do. You can’t tip a guy off like Richard Sherman because he will definitely make you pay for it. He’s a long player. He’s a longer cornerback. He’s instinctive. He has great ball skills. Like I said, he studies a lot.”
Of course, if the Seahawks are to defeat the Falcons, Richard Sherman will need help from his teammates. That is what has always made the Legion of Boom great: the secondary works together and each player knows his role.
On Sunday, we will find out if that is true. Jones and the Falcons believe in themselves at this point in the season and bring a huge challenge to CenturyLink Field. If the Seahawks can get a win against their conference foe, that might be a big step towards home-field advantage in the playoffs.