How big do we make this?
When an anomaly occurs, as did Sunday afternoon in CenturyLink field, there are two ways to react to it: Accept it as such, move on, and start new.
Or, look for signs of further damage.
If Richard Sherman and the secondary’s performance on Sunday was, in fact, an anomaly, then the season will stay on track. Before the game – against the #1 offense in the NFL, mind you – the Seahawks’ defense had been downright staunch. They led the league in points allowed (15.6), yards allowed per game (283.6) and are top-5 in many other categories.
They were also without their enforcer, Cam Chancellor. And if he was at all underappreciated before, those thoughts are now gone. As I mentioned in our weekly Hawks Talk podcast yesterday, what Chancellor brings to the table cannot be measured in statistical variables. His impact is measured in heart and terror, not run yards allowed.
What Atlanta accomplished in the third quarter was not taking advantage of schematic mistakes by the Seahawks. If they were, those could be easily amended. What the Falcons capitalized on – and that’s something all good teams will do – was take advantage of Seattle’s mental miscues.
Blown coverages. Miscommunication. Guys zigging when they should be zagging. All of the clichéd terms that get thrown around in those situations are apropos for the Seahawks’ performance.
That it happened to the secondary is disturbing. That Sherman was picked apart is worse.
For years, Sherman has been the fulcrum of the entire defense. His emotions - his vitriol towards opponents, his unwavering confidence - all of it formed who he was as a player. It shaped the Seahawks’ entire identity.
But on Sunday Sherman was simply outdone by a better player. Julio Jones toyed with him, and it became worse as the game went on. According to Pro Football Focus:
“On the downside, Richard Sherman (37.2 overall grade versus Falcons) struggled, targeted seven times by Matt Ryan, yielding five completions for 92 yards, and having some coverage busts that almost cost the Seahawks the game. Against Julio Jones specifically, Sherman had five targets into his coverage, surrendering three receptions to Jones for 40 yards.”
Sherman turned 28 earlier this year. He’s by no means on the downside of his career. And, in reality, because he’s so often avoided by opposing quarterbacks, his usage rate is on the low end. The number of hits he’s taken is minuscule compared to most players his age. But at some point, playing the position he does, the physical skills will begin to fade. Even losing one step as a cornerback can mean the difference between being an All-Pro player and not.
Is Sherman at that point? Not yet. Was his performance on Sunday concerning? Yes. Is it a sign of something bigger? Only time will tell.
Seattle’s schedule going forward is favorable, but one thing that will be constant is the talent they’ll face at quarterback:
Brees. Brady. Wentz. Winston. Newton. Rodgers.
There won’t be many opportunities for the mental mishaps to continue if Seattle wants to make this season as special as it looks like it could be. While they’ll be prohibitive favorites in almost all of those games, if Sunday’s performance is a trend and not an abnormality, suddenly, all of those games they should win become much more difficult.
If there’s one guy you can’t count out, it’s Sherman. From Compton to Stanford, to best corner in the league, he’s not immune to overcoming adversity. And if anyone looks at the film today and is seething, it’s him. This coming week against Arizona is a perfect opportunity for him to get back on the wagon and reestablish his position in the pecking order of DBs in the NFL.
But a repeat performance, with heads turned sideways, and coverages blown beyond recognition? Then, the anomaly is gone, and bigger issues remain.