The Seattle Seahawks earned their way to this year's Super Bowl with their victory over the San Francisco 49ers last weekend. The game came down to the final minute, in which Colin Kaepernick heaved a pass into the end zone, which was then batted away and consequently intercepted by Seattle.
Richard Sherman is responsible for the timely swat, and that was just one of many plays he made for his team. In their upcoming battle with the Denver Broncos, Sherman will prove to be one of the most important players on the field for many reasons.
He will likely be matched up with Demaryius Thomas, a talented big-bodied receiver that Peyton Manning has been leaning on quite a bit in Denver's last couple of games. Thomas has been Manning's go-to guy during the playoffs, and is coming off of a seven-catch, 134-yard game. It's clear he's who Seattle must stop to disrupt Denver's offense, and Sherman is the player to do it.
Sherman had a tremendous regular season and has continued that level of play in the playoffs. He has been allowing just under two catches a game along with an average of 13 yards a catch. He also picked off eight passes during the season and was seldom tested by opposing quarterbacks.
Considering Thomas' size, it's been easy for him to bully the smaller cornerbacks he's faced, but he won't have much size to give when he's lined up against Sherman; they're both 6'3" and have similar builds.
As mentioned earlier, Thomas has been a reliable target for Manning and has put up solid numbers all season long, but this will be his first time taking on a corner as dominant as Sherman. Aside from the physical matchup, Sherman is also a mental matchup. Thomas is known for letting his play talk for him, but that won't keep Sherman from being the gnat in his ear.
You see, Sherman is a lot more than a corner—he's a cerebral player; he attacks the receiver's mind just as well as he attacks the ball. We've seen him get under the skin of many players over time, and it's truly become an advantage of his.
Seattle's defense is very talented at every position, but their leader is clearly Sherman. He is the driving force behind their defensive success and brings a whole lot of confidence to the Seahawks defense.
Speaking of confidence, Sherman will need a lot of it (as if that was ever a concern) when his team takes on the Broncos. He will not only be matched up with Thomas, but will likely also be swapping blows with Manning. Both men are confident, but in different ways. Manning will throw a football right across your face and into his receiver's hands for a touchdown like it's nothing, while Sherman talks his opponents' ears off and is always sure to let them know when he makes them look bad.
Sherman has played well against a myriad of big, talented receivers this season, but most recently did well against New Orleans' Jimmy Graham. The two battled at times during the divisional matchup of Seattle and New Orleans, and Graham was held to just one catch for eight yards. For someone who's not a stranger to the highlight reel, Graham was a non-factor in that game.
What will perhaps be of most help to Sherman is the respect he has for Manning. "You can't get in Peyton's head. If you get in his head, you'll get lost," Sherman said, according to Sports Illustrated's Doug Farrar.
Knowing that he simply can't out-smart Manning will force Sherman to rely on his physical attributes instead of his talking to make a difference in this game.
If Sherman can just limit Thomas then he will greatly increase his team's chance of winning; the Broncos have just a 2-2 record this season when Thomas has four catches or less.
As long as Seattle's offense can put some points on the board, Sherman and the rest of the defense might be able to stall the offense long enough for them to build and maintain a solid lead on the Broncos, leading to a win.
Sherman's instinctual style of play and unbreakable confidence is what makes him the best cornerback in the NFL, and will be what drives him and his team in this upcoming Super Bowl.
*All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference*