Richard Sherman and many others think he's the best cornerback in the game. And they might be right.
Sherman didn't give up a completion in the NFC Championship Game, and he made the game-saving play that sent Seattle to the Super Bowl. He then went on a rant on live television bashing Michael Crabtree and inflating his own credentials, and he's now all anyone can talk about.
After Super Bowl Sunday, that will still ring true. However, it won't be for the right reasons.
Sherman, clearly Seattle's best corner, will be assigned to Denver's Demaryius Thomas on most snaps. Thomas is one of the league's best receivers, and he also had a nice showing during Conference Championship Weekend. He caught seven passes for 134 yards and a touchdown, and he has 15 catches for 188 yards and two scores this postseason.
In the AFC Championship Game, however, Thomas was picking on Alfonzo Dennard and an injury-depleted New England Patriots secondary for most of the game. Aqib Talib, New England's best defensive back, went down early in the second quarter. Thomas proceeded to pick on inferior competition, and now, he has to face the vaunted Seattle secondary.
And yes, he will have to face Sherman.
Many think Thomas won't be able to perform well against Sherman. However, it's worth noting that Thomas weighs about 35 pounds more than Sherman. Sherman weighs about 195 pounds, and Thomas checks in near 230 pounds.
This means it will be much harder for the physical Sherman to jam Thomas at the line of scrimmage. If Sherman misses a jam or if Thomas fights one off easily, it could lead to a huge play. That's because Sherman will likely be on an island all game, as Denver has a talented quartet of receiving weapons.
Thomas has had some trouble with press coverage, but he has the tools to thrive against it. Also, this is the Super Bowl, so Thomas should be more physical than usual.
In other words, he should fight through Sherman's jams.
He is heavier and stronger than Sherman, and he also makes great cuts. Additionally, Thomas and Peyton Manning have great timing, and with the possibility of precipitation and a slippery field, Sherman might lose his footing at times.
You could argue that the same could happen with Thomas, but that's not as likely. Receivers know when they're going to cut, so it's easier for them to change direction.
Cornerbacks, on the other hand, have to react to the receiver and then make a move, which can be problematic.
This is often a problem in cold, wet games. That's why, for example, the Minnesota Vikings and Baltimore Ravens traded points at will in the fourth quarter (with ample precipitation). An insane 36 points were scored in the last two minutes and five seconds of the game.
The Super Bowl won't see points scored at that mind-blowing rate. But Sherman and the Seattle defense could still struggle in the inclement weather, which would end up benefiting Thomas.
Even without precipitation, Thomas can do well. The closest receiver Sherman has faced to Thomas is Andre Johnson, and Johnson accumulated 110 receiving yards against Seattle.
Johnson wasn't always matched up with Sherman, but his stellar stats suggest that Thomas can also explode. Thomas also could, like Johnson, do this against inferior competition as well. The Seahawks don't usually assign one cornerback to one receiver for the whole game, as they have great depth.
If Thomas faces Byron Maxwell or Walter Thurmond III, Manning would take advantage. Those matchup possibilities should come to fruition, as nobody is better at manipulating a defense and getting receivers in favorable positions than Manning.
Oh, and the Broncos also use rub routes, also known as pick plays, to gain separation for receivers. They call this often and have worked it to perfection, and they will do so in the Super Bowl as well. These routes may end up benefiting Wes Welker more than Thomas, but the Broncos will definitely use this weapon to Thomas' advantage.
But even when Denver doesn't use rub routes, and even when Thomas is matched up with Sherman, Manning will look his way. After all, in about a half against the Seahawks during the preseason, Thomas caught three balls for 52 yards.
So yes, Thomas can catch passes against Sherman. And yes, he will do that in the Super Bowl.
Sherman isn't big enough to jam Thomas, and he's not going to be able to stop Thomas. Manning will find a way to get his top target in favorable matchups, and the Broncos will call rub routes as well.
There are a plethora of ways for Thomas to get open, and the Broncos will get him the ball. He's playing some of his best football at the perfect time, and he's not going to stop now. Don't be surprised if Thomas goes for more than 100 yards and finds the end zone.
Why? Because nobody can stop him. And yes, that includes Sherman.