How Has Richard Sherman Really Performed vs. Top NFL Receivers?
Just ask the 25-year-old. He'll gladly tell you.
After making the play of the game in last Sunday's NFC Championship win, Sherman loudly proclaimed to Erin Andrews of Fox Sports, via The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, “I’m the best corner in the game! When you try me with a sorry receiver like (San Francisco's Michael) Crabtree, that’s the result you’re going to get. Don’t you ever talk about me!"
This outburst, of course, has everyone talking even more about the outspoken Pro Bowler.
If Sherman truly is the best cornerback in the game, it's fair to expect that in addition to coming up huge in big games (such as last week's win) Sherman would also shine when placed opposite players "worthy" of being covered by him.
Let's put that expectation to the test by examining how Sherman fared against the NFL's top receivers over the past few years.
Target data courtesy of Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Vs. Michael Crabtree
From a look at the numbers, one thing is clear.
If you judge Michael Crabtree just by how he has fared against Sherman in their careers, then the San Francisco wideout has a ways to go before being considered "elite."
Crabtree's five-catch, 85-yard outing in Week 16 of the 2011 season is his high-water mark against the Seahawks since Sherman became a starter. Over that span, Crabtree has not found the end zone.
Sherman's numbers against San Francisco with Crabtree on the field are even more impressive.
In five games, Sherman has allowed nine of 25 passes thrown in his direction to be completed. He's intercepted two passes and hasn't allowed a score while holding quarterbacks throwing his way in those games to an anemic 39.3 passer rating.
It would appear that Seattle's most heated rival gets Sherman's blood pumping.
Vs. Larry Fitzgerald
OK, maybe it's the whole NFC West that gets Sherman's blood pumping.
No one is going to question Larry Fitzgerald's status as an elite wide receiver in the NFL. Six 1,000-yard seasons and 87 career touchdown catches speak to the perennial Pro Bowler's greatness.
However, over the past two years, Fitzgerald has done absolutely nothing against Sherman and the Seahawks.
Over his past four meetings with Seattle, Fitzgerald has 10 catches for 100 yards total, with no touchdowns. In fact, in two of those four games Sherman didn't allow a single pass to be completed in his direction.
Well, that's not entirely true. In each of those games, Sherman had a pair of interceptions.
Vs. Victor Cruz
When the two teams met back in 2011, Sherman had one of the worst individual games of his career, allowing over 100 receiving yards on four completions with a score. Both Cruz and Hakeem Nicks caught scoring passes from Eli Manning that day, and Sherman surrendered a perfect 158.3 passer rating to Manning.
Granted, this year's Giants team wasn't as good as that Super Bowl club, but it doesn't completely explain the clamp job Sherman put on the G-Men back in Week 15. In that blowout win by the Seahawks, Sherman allowed all of 19 yards while picking Manning off twice.
Yes, Manning getting picked off in 2013 was hardly news, but a theme appears to be emerging here: Richard Sherman freezing elite receivers out of football games.
Vs. Roddy White
The bad blood includes Sherman telling the NFL Network as part of last summer's "Top 100" series, per Brian McIntyre of Yahoo! Sports, "In my book, (White's) just not a Top 100 player."
It stems from their testy playoff matchup a year ago.
It was a back-and-forth affair won by the Falcons, and White pointed to his 47-yard touchdown and the Atlanta win as a victory over Sherman while telling McIntyre, "I'm not sitting there losing any sleep getting ready to play Richard Sherman."
However, Sherman allowed only two of eight targets thrown his way that day to be completed, with three pass breakups.
Sherman must be doing something right. In their rematch this year, the injury-ravaged Falcons didn't target him once.
For those wondering about Sherman and Julio Jones, we've yet to really see that showdown. Sherman did speak highly of Jones though, stating, "Julio Jones is high on my list, because they have to account for him."
Vs. Calvin Johnson
This isn't to say that Richard Sherman has never struggled in a game.
Back in Week 8 of the 2012 season, Sherman and the Seahawks traveled to Detroit to face the Lions.
Yep, that's right: Megatron meets the mouth.
In that game, Sherman was very un-Sherman-like. He allowed over 60 percent of the passes thrown his way to be completed while giving up 75 yards and a score. Matthew Stafford's passer rating while throwing at Sherman that day was 132.8.
It seems reasonable to assume, given those numbers, that superstar wideout Calvin Johnson went off, right? After all, Johnson set the NFL record for receiving yards in a season last year.
Wrong. Johnson's three catches in the game tied a season low, and his 46 receiving yards were his second-lowest total of the year.
Vs. Brandon Marshall
Over the past seven seasons, Chicago Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall has been among the most prolific wide receivers in the NFL. In five of those seasons, Marshall eclipsed 100 catches, including each of the past two years.
Marshall and Sherman squared off back in Week 13 of the 2012 season. For once, the receiver got the best of the deal.
Marshall didn't get into the end zone, but he did reel in 10 passes for 165 yards. However, not all of those yards came against Sherman, who surrendered 92 yards and a 109.7 passer rating on 4-of-6 passing.
Even then, Seattle won the game. Even when Sherman loses, he wins.
It's hard to say we learned anything here we didn't already know.
The fact is, love him or hate him, Richard Sherman is a phenomenal young defensive back. He's been tested in one-on-one matchups with many of the game's top wideouts, including potential Hall of Famers such as Johnson and Fitzgerald.
More often than not, Sherman got the better end of the deal.
However, the wideouts had their moments. Cruz had his. So did White. T.Y. Hilton had his as well, torching the Seahawks for two long touchdown passes in a win by the Indianapolis Colts earlier this year.
And there's the rub: the long pass.
If these numbers (and Sherman's as a whole over the past two years) are any indication, consistent success against Sherman isn't going to happen.
It isn't wise to target a player like him a lot. You can't outmuscle or outjump him, and as his 16 interceptions over the past two years attest, Sherman will make you pay dearly for mistakes.
He has, however, been at least somewhat susceptible to letting players get behind him from time to time.
Of course, knowing that and being able to do anything about it are two different things, and it's a very real possibility that after Super Bowl XLVIII Sherman will be asking Peyton Manning and Demaryius Thomas an age-old question.