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The Seahawks defense has emerged as one of the game's best overall units. They're third in the NFC in yards allowed per game in 2012, and adjusting for strength of schedule, they rate third in the NFL overall.
A large portion of the credit for the Seahawks' success should go to their defensive backs, specifically to Richard Sherman. The former fifth-round pick has broken out in a big way this season, shutting down opposing wide receivers with aggressive press coverage and hard hits.
When taking all of his contributions into account, he's arguably the best NFL coverage corner right now. He's tied for second in the NFL with three interceptions, and fourth in pass deflections (11). And, of NFC corners that have played at least 75 percent of their team's snaps this season, Sherman ranks third, holding opposing quarterbacks to a 59.1 QB rating on passes to his side of the field (source: ProFootballFocus.com).
What's most impressive about Sherman's play this season is the lack of penalties he's drawn. Despite playing 530 snaps this season, he's accounted for just two flags (both declined), while other star corners have killed their teams in that area. Supposed shutdown corners like Nnamdi Asomugha (five penalties and three accepted), and Dominique Rogers-Cromartie (7-1) have crippled their teams with pass interference calls.
Sherman also has 36 tackles in 40 attempts this season, and his two forced fumbles ties him for second among NFC corners. And, despite playing for one of the best run-stopping defenses, opposing quarterbacks just can't force the ball past him. He's allowed just 53 percent of passes thrown his way to end in completions.
Though Sherman is a left corner, he's still contributing at a star level. Playing against the Packers, Patriots and Cowboys this season, he's had to cover many of the best receivers in the game. And in each game he's turned a top-shelf wide-out in to a much more mediocre performer.
Against the Cowboys, he reduced Miles Austin's catch percentage from 59 percent to 55 percent, then Brandon Lloyd's from 55 to 50 percent when the Hawks played the Patriots. And he held Jordy Nelson to just two catches in Week 3.
Facing the Rams on September 30, he picked off Sam Bradford and held Danny Amendola to a season-low 9.2 yards per catch. Then, a couple of weeks ago, he shutdown Randy Moss, holding him to one catch in four targets, even though Moss was averaging a 66 percent catch percentage in his other games.
Unlike 2012's other Pro Bowl-bound corners—Tim Jennings, Devin McCourty, Antoine Winfield for instance—Sherman plays much more physical football.
At 6'3" and 200 pounds, he big for a corner, and his added size and strength makes him a force both against the run and in press coverage. That's exactly what the Seahawks like about him. He fits in to their hybrid scheme perfectly, using his size to smother play-making receivers up close, or drop back and lay a brain-jarring hit as the ball approaches. They don't rush the quarterback as much as most teams, instead they focus on jamming receivers and punishing the run.
But beyond pure on-field performance, Sherman's competitive, smash-mouth demeanor fits the star defensive player mold perfectly. A couple of weeks ago, after picking off Tom Brady and helping his Seahawks beat the Patriots, he taunted the reigning AFC Champions following the game. His nasty, in your face moment caught plenty of criticism, but it also helped cement the Seahawks' place in the spotlight.