Richard Sherman Must Lead On Monday

50 yard line on an american football field

Matt Schaub used to be a quarterback in the NFL. The Houston Texans used to be a football team. That is, before they ran into Richard Sherman. It may be hard to recall that the Texans were 2-1 heading into that game and looked like they had found their stride while dominating the Seahawks during a 20-3 first half. Seattle clawed back to 20-13 in the second half after a memorable Russell Wilson-led drive for a touchdown. What happened next ended a player’s career in Houston, ended a team’s season in week four, and may well lead to a coach being fired. Sherman correctly read the play call on third down, wrestled away the ball from the Texans tight end, and ran the interception back for a game-tying touchdown with only one shoe. Sherman has ability that goes beyond shutting down an opposing receiver. He can take down entire teams when he is on his game. The turbulent situation at the cornerback position and the potent passing offense Seattle faces necessitates Sherman play his best ball Monday night.

It was a strong start to 2013 for the Seahawks boisterous defensive back. Not only did he carpet bomb the Texans, but he nearly forced Anquan Boldin into early retirement while also giving Colin Kapernick night terrors that seemed to last for most of the season thereafter. He had two picks in four games, and was a major factor in determining the outcome of games for Seattle. The pace has slowed recently though.

Sherman has been targeted a total of 3 times in the last 3 games. He had been targeted at least 4 times in 7 of the first 8 games of 2013.

Sherman has not had an interception in his last three games. That ties the longest drought of his career since becoming a starter in 2011. He also does not have a pass defensed in that span, which is the longest such streak in his career. When Sherman impacts the game, Seattle wins.

The Seahawks have won their last 9 games when Richard Sherman has an interception

The simple plan for Dan Quinn and the Seahawks is to slap Sherman on the left side and bottle up whoever the Saints line up across from him. That would be a mistake. Drew Brees and Sean Payton would be happy to sacrifice Marques Colston or Kenny Stills to Sherman if it meant leaving other options reliably facing other defenders. I am no Bobby Fischer, but sacrificing a pawn to take a knight off the board seems like a win every time.

It may be time to unleash a new utilization of Sherman over the next four games; make his position on the field flexible and unpredictable. It would not even be entirely new, as it was employed versus Boldin and the 49ers to some extent. In that game, Sherman left his side of the field to shadow Boldin wherever he lined up. The Saints have Jimmy Graham, who qualifies as their primary option. Putting Sherman on Graham from time-to-time may be a sensible decision. Having him shadow Graham makes much less sense. You don’t want Sherman sucked in while Graham is acting as an in-line blocker. Graham is also 265 lbs to Sherman’s 195 lbs. As big as Sherman is for a corner, a defensive coach does not want to eliminate his size advantage by putting him on a bigger player all the time. Instead, have rules that puts Sherman on Graham when he lines up wide, and perhaps even in certain slot situations.

Identify patterns and preferences in the Saints offense and for Brees. Use Sherman to dissuade them from going to their primary read. It is like taking away a basketball players strong hand or making him shoot from a spot other than his go-to position on the floor. Force him to use his weak hand and to take shots that are not his favorite. Invariably, shooting percentages drop. If teams really want to avoid throwing at Sherman, use him to disrupt their reads by putting him in the least convenient spots on the field for the offense.

Leaving him on one side of the field allows the offense to dictate terms. It is time for that to end.

Sherman must also step up. He is a player I touted as a defensive player of the year candidate heading into the season. He was on track for exactly that after the Texans triumph, but has been caught guessing incorrectly a couple of times since then, and has not impacted the game at quite the level we have come to expect. He is a leader on this team now. They need him more than ever to step forward and be elite. Make plays. Be assignment correct. Bring intensity and discipline. Be the knight that makes the King surrender. Devastate another team and another fan base. Be Richard Sherman.