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The date was October 16, 2016. The place was CenturyLink field in Seattle. The down and distance was 4th and 10. The Seattle Seahawks led by a score of 26-24. The time remaining in the game was just over 90 seconds.

Atlanta Falcons’ quarterback Matt Ryan threw a perfect deep ball to the league’s top receiver, Julio Jones. Jones had Richard Sherman beat on the play. With all eyes fixed on the pass coming down toward Jones, Sherman held and pinned down Jones’ right arm, slowed him down and twisted him around. Jones gamely tried to make a one-handed catch, but was unable to haul it in.

Much of the nation watched this Sunday evening game and the obvious, but uncalled pass interference, which very likely prevented Atlanta from kicking a winning field goal. The larceny occurred at the Seahawks’ 36-yard line. Not quite as bad as the “Fail Mary” call in this same stadium against the Green Bay Packers in 2012, but pretty close.

What the play exposed is that Richard Sherman lacks the speed to keep up with fast receivers when they go deep.

Though Sherman is one of the most highly-regarded cornerbacks in the league, he has a flaw that can be exploited. His 40-yard dash time at the 2011 NFL combine was 4.56 seconds. This time is among the slowest of all starting NFL cornerbacks and Sherman is now 28 years old. It is almost certainly why Sherman, a standout at Stanford, was not drafted until the fifth round.

Packers’ Past Strategy Against Sherman

In the past, Sherman almost always played on the left side of the defensive formation, while Packers’ top receiver Jordy Nelson played opposite him, on the right side of the offensive formation. So, for the first game of the 2014 season, mastermind Mike McCarthy decided to line Jordy up on the left side hoping to lure Sherman out of his comfort zone.

Instead, Sherman stayed where he usually does, so Jarrett Boykin (now with the Calgary Stampeders) and rookie Davante Adams took turns going out in the left flat and occupying Sherman. Neither had a pass thrown his way all game. Nelson caught nine for 83, Randall Cobb caught six for 58, tight end Andrew Quarless caught three for 26, and the two running backs caught five for 22.

Taking Sherman out of the action in this way might have seemed like a good tradeoff for the Packers, but the results, only 189 passing yards and an 81.5 passer rating by Aaron Rodgers, aided the Seahawks in an easy 36-16 home win. In subsequent years, Sherman has at times been assigned to the opponent’s top receiver, no matter where he lines up. Jordy Nelson also now regularly strays from his traditional right-outside spot.

I’ve yet to hear any conversation about how this cat-and-mouse game will be played by each side on Sunday, but it will be an item to watch.

Earl Thomas Has Had Sherman’s Back

Sherman is quick and aggressive, but he is not fast. Over the years, this flaw has been well masked by having the most valuable and savvy of Seattle’s defensive backs, safety Earl Thomas, back up Sherman on deep balls thrown Sherman’s way. But Thomas, a three-time first-team All-Pro, was lost for the season last week with a broken leg. He has talked about retiring since the injury.

I doubt that Sherman will follow Jordy around wherever he lines up, in part because that would cause much confusion and put more pressure on Steven Terrell, the replacement for Thomas.

Therefore, I would line up my fastest receivers across from Sherman – Jeff Janis and Trevor Davis (inactive last week), not Jordy Nelson. Every few plays, I’d rotate the two Packers’ speedsters and repeatedly send them deep. Advantages include: wearing Sherman down, moving a fine tackler and interception threat far away from the action, perhaps occupying Terrell too, and leaving much of the offensive right side of the field more open for running plays and short passes.

Getting Back to Reality

Of course you won’t see Mike McCarthy resort to such an unconventional strategy. It’s at least possible, however, that Green Bay will want to test substitute safety Steven Terrell. To do so, one would think the Packers would want the team’s two fastest receivers to be on the field a lot. You expose a safety by throwing deep. McCarthy might even be moved to finally send Jared Cook deep down the middle of the field against the 5’10” Terrell.

Thomas’ loss is severe. Here’s what Seahawks coach Pete Carrol had to say in October about the role Thomas plays in Seattle’s defense:

“It’s enormous. It’s an extraordinarily significant role. Post routes and seam routes, those happen in football a lot and, you don’t see it happen [against Seattle] much over the years. You can probably count them on one hand if there’s that many. That’s because he’s been so disciplined and so strict about it.”

Whatever the Packers decide, they’ve had the entire week to strategize, knowing that the glue of Seattle’s defensive backfield is out and that his replacement is an undrafted fourth-year player who flopped with the Jaguars and Texans. Terrell is going to have to match wits with the Packers’ coaches and Aaron Rodgers.

This game will say a lot about the talents of Green Bay’s coaching staff and about Rodgers’ split-second decision-making. Will the Packers fully exploit a great opportunity that has been handed to them or will they drop the ball?

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Rob Born

Smart drafters don’t select the best available players, they fill a team’s positions of greatest need.

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10 Comments

  1. PF4L December 8, 2016

    “Richard Sherman Exposes Himself”

    So…..kind of like the whole Packer defense does against good teams?

  2. Chad Lundberg December 8, 2016

    Wonderful, wonderful article. I certainly hope we this kind of creativity in the game. Even if we lose, it would be an immense relief to see something like this

  3. Ted Hawthorne December 8, 2016

    Very shrewd, Rob. Let’s see Sherman match Janis stride for long stride to the post.
    Not likely. Of course, FatBoy can’t image that, he’s too busy staring at his color-
    keyed Perkins Restaurant menu.

  4. icebowl December 8, 2016

    Good article Rob.
    The key on Sherman will be how much room the refs continue to give him. The years of him and that idiot Pete Carrol whining and trying to intimidate refs continues to pay dividends even years after the Fail Mary. I truly dislike that whole team, but would really like to see Sherman eat some major crow on Sunday….

  5. TyKo Steamboat December 8, 2016

    Fine writing. Thanks Rob

    I feel Randall Cobb should have a big game. A big dink-n-dunk game
    20-13 Packers

  6. Zwoeger December 9, 2016

    Lil’ Mike could’nt adjust in game in 2015 when Sherman showed to be injured and did’nt let him targeted.
    Do’nt know he’s able with almost a month to change his game plan.

    1. Empacador December 9, 2016

      This! Sherman could be out there with a peg leg and the Packers offense would be oblivious.

  7. MMTTDCSUCK December 9, 2016

    The reason MM has earned the name “Buffoon” is partially because of his lack of adjustments either before or during the game. I would be surprised if McGlurpy actually did throw our fastest WR’s at Sherman and Terrell. The Buffoon has strapped himself into a “corner” with his OCD’s (you know, like making certain that the team ran a certain amount of running plays during the NFCC game to name just one OCD) so often that he is in another reality other than in the one that his team is playing in. Fuck! LOL! This guy is so tight with his playbook that half of the Packer Nation most likely shit their pants last week with the Janis end around . . .

  8. Deepsky December 9, 2016

    Interestingly this is the first game of his entire career that Earl Thomas has missed. Hopefully it will have the same impact on the Seahawks as the loss of Nick Collins had on the Packers.

    1. Deepsky December 9, 2016

      Actually I was wrong. The first game he missed entirely was against the Bucs two weeks ago, where the Bucs shockingly beat them. He played last week against Carolina, but when down with the broken leg.