A well-known argument has gone around the NFL for the last few seasons regarding who should be considered the best cornerback in the league. For much of this argument the contenders have included Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks, Patrick Peterson of the Arizona Cardinals, Darrelle Revis of the New York Jets and Joe Haden of the Cleveland Browns. While Haden has had a rough 2015 campaign and could be replaced by Josh Norman of the Carolina Panthers in this discussion, you could still make an argument for every guy on that list.
The argument against Sherman has always been that he only plays on one side of the field, and unlike the other guys on the list he does not follow around the opposing team’s best receiver. This allows opposing quarterbacks to avoid his side of the field more without losing his top receiving threat. This was a strategy that the Seahawks used for the last few seasons, but it’s something that Seattle has seemed to get away from at times this year.
Many times throughout this season Sherman has been tasked with lining up against the opposition’s top receiving threats. These receivers included Torrey Smith of the San Francisco 49ers, at times Tavon Austin of the St. Louis Rams, Calvin Johnson of the Detroit Lions, Dez Bryant of the Dallas Cowboys and Antonio Brown of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
In those matchups, Smith had one catch for 16 yards in two games against the Seahawks, Austin had two catches for minus-2 yards, Johnson had seven receptions for 56 yards, Bryant had two catches for 12 yards and Brown had six catches for 51 yards.
What really stands out about these are his performances when going up against major receiving threats in Bryant and Brown. Bryant is one of the best receivers in football, although he missed some playing time this season due to injury, and Brown has the second-most receiving yards in the league.
Even with Bryant returning to play with a backup quarterback in Tony Romo’s absence, he is a major weapon and threat to opposing defenses, and he did very little against Sherman. Brown was a little bit more successful, but the Steelers offense threw for nearly 500 yards against the Seahawks in that game and only 51 went to Brown. In both of these games, Sherman seemed more than up to the task in holding these prolific targets to minimal numbers.
Of course there have been some negatives this season too. Against the Cardinals at CenturyLink Field earlier this season, Sherman did not cover a specific receiver, but he was thrown at eight times and allowed five receptions for 67 yards and a touchdown. These are odd numbers for Sherman to put up, but at the same time the Cardinals’ offense has been one of the best in the league so far this season.
Even with that down game, and with his interception numbers being down this season, Sherman seems to have elevated his game even more in 2015. Defensive coordinator Kris Richard and head coach Pete Carroll have given Sherman the opportunity to take on top receiving threats, and he has excelled at it for much of the season. Sherman has lined up at both cornerback spots, and in the nickel at times this season, and very often he is winning those matchups. This is critical to a Seahawks defense that seems to be in limbo at the moment with their other cornerback. Cary Williams was recently benched for Deshawn Shead, and at the moment it seems like it is Shead’s spot to lose. With the switches going on there, it makes it even more important for Sherman to continue shutting down top-tier receivers.