Richard Sherman: The Numbers, The Tape, The Verdict 2014

Richard Sherman is first up for the PSR Cornerback Analysis. (Image courtesy of Seattletimes.com)

Prelude: The staple of Pre Snap Reads is back. Just like PSR did last year, this year’s cornerback series kicks off with an in-depth look at Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks.

It’s hard not to know the name Richard Sherman right now. Even on a team with Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch, Earl Thomas, Percy Harvin and Michael Bennett, the 25-year-old cornerback is still the most talked about player from the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks.

By now you likely know Sherman’s story. He entered the league as a fifth round draft pick out of Stanford after playing wide receiver for Jim Harbaugh. He immediately became an impact player for Pete Carroll’s Seahawks, as he caught four interceptions during his rookie season in 2011.

In his second season, Sherman’s reputation began to grow amongst avid football fans. He caught eight interceptions and he took a step forward in his development to the point that he could claim he was the best cornerback in the NFL.

Players such as Sherman inspired the creation of this series. Sherman didn’t receive enough credit for his play in 2012. Few cornerbacks ever do receive adequate credit/criticism for their play on the field. That’s just the way the game is presented. Most of their work comes off camera during broadcasts so it’s hard to really blame anyone for not looking past incompletions and completions.

In this series, we attempt to rectify the flaws in cornerback analysis by evaluating a player on every single snap he plays throughout the year.

The series breaks down man coverage plays into analytical results with context provided by film breakdowns. Zone plays aren’t quantified in analytical results, but the player is also evaluated with film breakdowns this year.

If you’re already familiar with the series, then you can skip the explanation of the process, but if not, I recommend reading it.

Explaining the Process

Qualifying Plays:
Plays that count:

  • Every snap that has the cornerback in man coverage no matter where the ball is thrown.
  • The above includes sacks, quarterback scrambles and plays where the defensive back has safety help.

Plays that don’t count:

  • Screen plays. Even if the receiver isn’t part of the screen, these plays do not count.
  • Plays where either the receiver or cornerback doesn’t follow through his whole assignment.
  • Zone plays. Any ambiguity in this area will disqualify a play.
  • Any prevent coverage situations.
  • Receptions in the flat without a route run.
  • Running plays(duh!). Including designed quarterback runs.

Failed Coverages:

The ball does not have to be thrown in the defensive back’s direction for the coverage to fail. This is NOT an alysis of how many completions the cornerback allowed, that can be found elsewhere, this is an analysis of how good his coverage is on any given play.

Failed coverages can come at any point of the route, but it is subjective to where the players are on the field in relation to the quarterback. Typically, defensive backs must be within arms reach for underneath/intermediate routes. On deeper passes, there is greater leeway given to the defender.

Failed coverages can be subjective. They must be determined by the situation considering the length of the play and other such variables.

Shut Down:

This category is reserved for those plays when receivers would have to make superhuman catches to beat the coverage. The best example of this is when receivers line up wide and try to run down the sideline, but the defensive back gradually guides them towards the sideline, suffocating the space they have to catch the football in. If a receiver is on the white sideline, he is shut down.

In Position:

This is the opposite of a failed coverage. In order to be ‘In Position’, a defensive back has to be in a position to prevent a relatively well-thrown pass to his assignment.

 

Now, onto Richard Sherman’s 2013 season!

 

T.Y. Hilton takes Stevie Johnson’s crown in 2013. (Image courtesy of thescore.com)

 Individual Matchups

Individual matchups looks exclusively at how Sherman fared against specific receivers. Each receiver had to have at least four snaps in man coverage against the veteran cornerback. It doesn’t matter where or how Sherman was beaten, this chart simply looks at if he was beaten.

Note: If you are comparing this year’s chart against last year’s, this chart lists how successful Sherman was instead of how successful the receiver was. This was changed this year because it confused people last year.

No.

Player

Successful Snaps/Coverage Snaps

Percentage

1 Hakeem Nicks 8/8 100%
2 Jimmy Graham 6/6 100%
3 Marques Colston 5/5 100%
4 Harry Douglas 5/5 100%
5 Roddy White 5/5 100%
6 Demaryius Thomas 4/4 100%
7 Brian Quick 4/4 100%
8 Nate Washington 9/10 90%
9 Darrius Heyward-Bey 8/9 89%
10 Chris Givens 7/8 88%
11 Kenny Stills 7/8 88%
12 Michael Floyd 13/16 81%
13 Anquan Boldin 16/20 80%
14 DeAndre Hopkins 9/12 75%
15 Lance Moore 3/4 75%
16 Darius Johnson 3/4 75%
17 Stephen Burton 3/4 75%
18 Andre Johnson 8/12 67%
19 Vincent Jackson 4/6 67%
20 Tiquan Underwood 4/6 67%
21 Larry Fitzgerald 6/10 60%
22 Michael Crabtree 3/6 50%
23 Cecil Shorts 2/4 50%
24 T.Y. Hilton 1/5 20%
Total and Average 143 / 181 79%

 

Weekly Breakdown

This section breaks down Sherman’s season on a game-by-game basis.

Regular Season

Week 1: Carolina Panthers
Total qualifying plays: 7
Failed coverages: 1
Shutdowns: 3
In Position: 3

Unsurprisingly, the Seahawks played a lot of zone coverage against the Carolina Panthers and Cam Newton. When Sherman was in man coverage, he was beaten just once, by Ted Ginn. However, Ginn appeared to push off on an underneath curl route even though it wasn’t called by the official.

Sherman lined up on the left side of the defense for all of his man coverage snaps except for one. On that occasion he covered Steve Smith in the slot and he should have had an interception.

Screen shot 2014-02-18 at 21.04.19

Smith initially lined up in a bunch to the left. This dropped Sherman into off coverage. Smith ran a crossing route around 10 yards down the field and Sherman actually lost him for a split second between the hash marks. However, Sherman quickly recovered and he attacked a somewhat floated pass from Cam Newton while Smith faded away.

Dropped interceptions were an aspect of Sherman’s season. There were a number of opportunities that he was unable to take advantage of.

Week 2: San Francisco 49ers
Total qualifying plays: 16
Failed coverages: 2
Shutdowns: 5
In Position: 9

Sherman started this game out phenomenally. He followed Anquan Boldin around the field early in the game and Boldin became visibly disinterested because of Sherman’s aggressive coverage. Boldin got the better of him just once, when he slipped past him down the seam, but Sherman responded quickly with an athletic interception while covering Vernon Davis.

INT

The 49ers learned here that throwing at Sherman down the sideline when he is playing man coverage is not a good idea. Sherman is as likely to intercept passes that go past his outside shoulder down the sideline as those passes are to be completed to the receiver.

The 49ers would be reminded of this lesson that they failed to learn later in the season.

Week 3: Jacksonville Jaguars
Total qualifying plays: 9
Failed coverages: 3
Shutdowns: 2
In Position: 4

Sherman dropped another potential interception on a sideline pass in this game, but that wasn’t the most notable play.

Sherman has a reputation for being a shutdown cornerback. In man coverage, he is a phenomenal player with all the physical talent to shut down any receiver on a given day. However, he has notable issues in zone coverage.

On a number of occasions during the 2013 season, Sherman gave up big plays in zone coverage because he was too aggressive. This approach also has helped him create turnovers and break up passes so it’s not so much that he is unintelligent in his approach but rather just too aggressive.

2014-02-18 22_04_05

Against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Sherman appeared to blow an assignment in zone coverage that allowed Cecil Shorts to escape down the sideline for a huge gain.

Week 4: Houston Texans
Total qualifying plays: 27
Failed coverages: 7
Shutdowns: 4
In Position: 16

This was the first game of the season for Sherman when he played mostly man coverage. He covered Keshawn Martin three times, but split the rest of his snaps evenly between DeAndre Hopkins and Andre Johnson.

Johnson and Hopkins had some success against Sherman, but when they won on routes they were made to work very hard to get open.

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As is generally the case with top tier man cover cornerbacks, route running is the best way to create separation. Andre Johnson is one of the best route runners in the NFL and he showed off outstanding precision and subtlety on this deep in route.

Johnson’s timing should also be noted as he broke inside as soon as Sherman began to drift towards the sideline.

2014-02-18 22_28_42

On this play, DeAndre Hopkins is able to get behind Sherman with a double move. Hopkins gets Sherman to bite on his initial fake, but Sherman is smart enough and quick enough to slow him down as he moves down the sideline. Hopkins has put Sherman in a position where he wouldn’t be able to get to the ball before him because he is trying to gain ground, but Sherman also isn’t giving up an easy throw to the quarterback.

At worst, Sherman should be able to tackle Hopkins and prevent a touchdown in a situation where many would have been beaten cleanly. This play is a good example as to why the raw man coverage numbers can’t be taken without greater context.

Sherman caught a vital interception for a touchdown in this game. That play came in zone coverage and while it was an impressive, instinctive play, it was mostly a result of poor quarterback play from Matt Schaub. On the other hand, Sherman had one of his most impressive plays of the season in the second quarter.

Screen shot 2014-02-18 at 22.34.06

With the Texans driving to the edge of the red zone, Sherman lined up in press coverage across from Johnson. Johnson is a very difficult player to play in press coverage because of his size, speed combination. He has exceptionally quick feet and he udnerstands how to manipulate defensive backs in coverage or at the line of scrimmage.

Screen shot 2014-02-18 at 22.34.45

At the snap, Johnson hesitates, before working towards the sideline and hesitating again to threaten an inside release. This all happens in roughly a second, but Sherman reacts to each movement without overplaying the sideline or the inside. He stays directly on top of the receiver and is in perfect position to play the ball moving down the sideline.

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When the ball arrives, it looks like Sherman is the intended target. However, he again fails to take advantage of the opportunity for the turnover.

In spite of his inability to pull the ball in with his hands, Sherman’s coverage on the play is still incredibly impressive. Johnson may not get the respect he deserves from the media these days, but he is still one of the very best receivers in the NFL.

Week 5: Indianapolis Colts
Total qualifying plays: 19
Failed coverages: 8
Shutdowns: 3
In Position: 8

This was one of Sherman’s worst games of the season. He was responsible for T.Y. Hilton’s huge touchdown reception when he lost his discipline in zone coverage. That was an ongoing issue throughout the season, but the abnormal aspect of this game was Sherman’s inability to handle Hilton in man coverage.

Hilton is a very talented young receiver, but he is nowhere near the toughest players to cover in the league. Sherman’s struggles primarily came at the line of scrimmage as Hilton was able to beat him with his release on three occasions.

2014-02-18 23_10_24

 

This game was very much an aberration for Sherman. He appeared to underestimate Hilton’s quickness on a number of occasions and was too quick to try and initiate contact.

Week 6: Tennessee Titans
Total qualifying plays: 15
Failed coverages: 1
Shutdowns: 4
In Position: 10

This was a dominant rebound performance from Sherman. He spent most of the day trailing Nate Washington. Washington had a very impressive season for the Titans. He was exceptionally efficient with the targets he saw and he was versatile in where he caught the ball throughout the season.

However, Washington also proved to be a great example of what happens to most physically inferior receivers who go against Sherman.

Screen shot 2014-02-18 at 23.18.06

For his interception, Sherman lined up in press coverage against Washington. Washington attempted to run a double move down the sideline. His initial fake actually caught Sherman off guard, but Washington couldn’t accelerate fast enough to take advantage of his initial hesitation.

Within five yards or so, Sherman had already caught up so that he was back on Washington’s shoulder and he had turned his head to locate the football. Sherman is in the perfect position to play any pass down the sideline, but because Ryan Fitzpatrick continues to play the game like Ryan Fitzpatrick, he still decided to throw the ball at this stage of the route.

Screen shot 2014-02-18 at 23.18.19

Fitzpatrick’s pass is too far infield and it hangs in the air. That gives Sherman plenty of time to locate it and get his body in front of Washington so he didn’t have to extend for the ball at its highest point. Even if Fitzpatrick had thrown a perfect pass, Sherman would have had a chance to prevent the reception because he was in a perfect position throughout the route.

Week 7: Arizona Cardinals
Total qualifying plays: 15
Failed coverages: 3
Shutdowns: 1
In Position: 11

Sherman was flagged while playing zone coverage against Michael Floyd. He followed Floyd for most of the game and bottled him up for the most part. Floyd beat him on a curl route and a crossing route on 11 snaps in man coverage. Larry Fitzgerald beat Sherman once with a very impressive comeback route.

Week 8: St. Louis Rams
Total qualifying plays: 16
Failed coverages: 5
Shutdowns: 1
In Position: 10

Two of Sherman’s failed coverages came when the Rams stacked their receivers together to create free releases. Sherman got trapped behind his own teammates and other receivers while his assignment ran to the other side of the field. He also floated at the top of one route against Chris Givens in his own end zone, but Kellen Clemens missed his open receiver.

Sherman had an interception in zone coverage when Clemens threw an errant pass down the seam.

Week 9: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Total qualifying plays: 13
Failed coverages: 4
Shutdowns: 1
In Position: 8

One of the most talked about criticism of Sherman and the other Seahawks cornerbacks is that they are too aggressive with their hands. Some claim that the Seahawks pull and grab defenders too often and get away with it more regularly than other teams.

Sherman does pull receivers, but not nearly as often as some make out. He doesn’t actually get away with it all that often either. In 2013, he was seemingly penalized much more than he had been in 2012.

2014-02-18 23_52_52

On this occasion, Sherman follows Vincent Jackson into the slot and pulls him early in the route. It goes uncalled, but Jackson is actually able to come free over the middle of the field because Sherman is too focused on trying to pull him instead of trying to recover his position.

Sherman pulls receivers, but not significantly more than any other player playing physical coverage in today’s NFL.

The whole idea is overblown.

Week 10: Atlanta Falcons
Total qualifying plays: 14
Failed coverages: 1
Shutdowns: 2
In Position: 11

Roddy White may not have been 100 percent healthy in this game. He certainly wasn’t impressive because Sherman shut him down completely. Darius Johnson was the only receiver to escape Sherman. He did that very late in the game with a shallow in route.

Week 11: Minnesota Vikings
Total qualifying plays: 7
Failed coverages: 1
Shutdowns: 1
In Position: 5

The only time all season when Sherman was badly exposed and it was clear for everyone to see came in Week 11 against the Vikings. Little recognized receiver Jairus Wright took advantage of Sherman’s aggressiveness in zone coverage for a huge touchdown.

One of the staples of the Seahawks’ coverage schemes asks Sherman to play a deep third. He normally gets a linebacker running underneath from infield, so he is able to sit back and focus on any deep routes receivers to his side run.

On this play, Sherman is covering a deep third, but he is too aggressive playing the underneath route.

2014-02-19 00_09_24

Wright subtly runs a very impressive route. As soon as he releases from the line of scrimmage, he begins to angle towards the sideline as if he is going to turn towards the sideline on a deep out route. Sherman reacts to this by shuffling his feet and turning his shoulders to square up to any potential break outside.

However, as soon as Sherman turns his shoulders, Wright plants his foot and goes straight past the outside shoulder of Sherman. Sherman tries to body him to slow him down, but Wright is too fast and he gets enough separation that he can turn to locate a slightly underthrown pass from Christian Ponder.

Week 13: New Orleans Saints
Total qualifying plays: 13
Failed coverages: 1
Shutdowns: 2
In Position: 10

On Monday Night Football, Sherman was dominant. He split time between Jimmy Graham, Robert Meachem, Kenny Stills and Lance Moore. Moore beat him once from the slot, but even on that play he was forced to work very hard on an extended play.

2014-02-19 00_25_39

Sherman is able to cover so many different types of receivers and tight ends because of his athleticism. Players at his size aren’t supposed to move as quickly and fluidly as he does.

Week 14: San Francisco 49ers
Total qualifying plays: 9
Failed coverages: 4
Shutdowns: 0
In Position: 5

This was possibly Sherman’s worst game of the season if you only consider man coverage. He was off balance on a number of occasions and pulled receivers back more than once. His usual balance wasn’t there and at least once he struggled to get out of his stance at the snap.

Week 15: New York Giants
Total qualifying plays: 10
Failed coverages: 1
Shutdowns: 2
In Position: 7

Sherman had two interceptions in this game and he tipped one pass to Earl Thomas for a third. One of those interceptions came on a hail mary attempt, while the other two were reminders that….

2014-02-19 00_36_55 2014-02-19 00_41_05

…you don’t throw at Richard Sherman’s outside shoulder down the sideline when he’s in man coverage.

Week 16: Arizona Cardinals
Total qualifying plays: 13
Failed coverages: 4
Shutdowns: 1
In Position: 8

Sherman covered Larry Fitzgerald a lot in this game and he struggled to contain him. He did have an impressive interception when Carson Palmer forced a pass to Fitzgerald on a post route, but Fitzgerald also beat him three times on seven matchups.

Besides Fitzgerald, Sherman also spent some time on Michael Floyd. He caught a second interception while covering Floyd, but it wasn’t an impressive play for the defensive back. It was the kind of play that motivated me to do this kind of analysis, because Sherman was actually beaten on the route.

Screen shot 2014-02-19 at 00.48.45

Sherman lines up in off coverage, just outside of Earl Thomas. There are two receivers bunched together to the right side of the formation and no deep safety so Sherman begins the play in off coverage. He is responsible for Michael Floyd who initially lines up on the inside of the right bunch.

Screen shot 2014-02-19 at 00.48.56

Floyd initially releases directly towards Sherman. Sherman reacts properly by adjusting his feet and back-pedalling while keeping his eyes on the receiver. At the same time, the Seahawks are blitzing so Cliff Avril has a free route to the quarterback at the bottom of the screen.

Screen shot 2014-02-19 at 00.49.04

At the top of his route, Floyd takes a hard step towards the pylon that makes Sherman jump aggressively to the outside. Floyd pushes back infield off his planted right foot while Sherman’s momentum pulls him towards the sideline. Floyd is wide open on the post route, but Carson Palmer is being hit as he throws.

Screen shot 2014-02-19 at 00.50.16

Because Avril hits Palmer during his throwing motion, the ball floats outside and goes to where Sherman is. Sherman does well to adjust to the ball in the air, but he has plenty of time to compose himself while Floyd has to turn around before desperately trying to break up the play.

A touchdown turned into a turnover because of pressure upfront, not because of Sherman’s coverage on the back end.

Week 17: St. Louis Rams
Total qualifying plays: 6
Failed coverages: 1
Shutdowns: 0
In Position: 5

Being that it was a meaningless game against inferior opposition, Sherman didn’t play the full four quarters.

Playoffs

Divisional Round: New Orleans Saints
Total qualifying plays: 13
Failed coverages: 1
Shutdowns: 1
In Position: 11

For the second time in 2013, Sherman enjoyed a dominant performance against Sean Payton’s Saints. He gave up one play in coverage and even that was essentially worthless for the offense…

2014-02-19 01_12_54

Championship Round: San Francisco 49ers
Total qualifying plays: 8
Failed coverages: 2
Shutdowns: 1
In Position: 5

Pick plays were a talking point of the 2013 season. Against the 49ers in the Championship Game, Sherman showed off perfect technique to counter a pick play that the offense tried to run.

2014-02-19 01_22_22

Sherman is lined up in the slot, against Anquan Boldin. He gains depth at the snap and doesn’t look to fight through the incoming receiver from the outside. Instead, he continues to drift backwards while keeping his shoulders and feet square to Boldin. This puts him in position to play any route to the sideline.

Importantly, Sherman doesn’t let his weight carry him forward after it becomes clear that Boldin is coming down the sideline. Instead he is able to lengthen his stride slightly before comfortably sliding backwards with Boldin.

Quarterback Colin Kaepernick was staring at Boldin throughout this motion. He immediately looked to the other side of the field when Sherman was on top of Boldin because the defensive back was looking in the backfield.

Too often cornerbacks tried to fight through the pick or panicked after dropping behind it this season. Sherman didn’t do that. He played it perfectly.

Oh, and he also made THAT play…

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…in man coverage down the sideline on a throw to his outside shoulder.

Super Bowl: Denver Broncos
Total qualifying plays: 8
Failed coverages: 2
Shutdowns: 1
In Position: 5

The Super Bowl was relatively quiet for Sherman. Eric Decker got the best of him on two occasions because Sherman showed poor balance when contact was initiated early in the route.

 

Just another reason to celebrate for the Seahawks.

2013 NFL Season Total:
Total qualifying plays: 238
Failed coverages: 52
Shutdowns: 35
In Position: 151
Sherman’s success rate for the season: 78.2%

In Comparison to 2012:
Total qualifying plays: 380
Failed coverages: 70
Shutdowns: 86
In Position: 224
Sherman’s success rate for the season: 81%

 Sherman’s success on man coverage routes dropped off slightly from 2012 to 2013, but sample size may have played a factor and a he rarely ever lost a receiver deep down the field. The most notable thing about the two seasons is the sample size.

A combination of the Seahawks playing more zone coverage and their improved pass rush meant that there was a notable drop in qualifying plays.

 

Results at Spots
Qualifying Plays at left cornerback: 214
Failed coverages at left cornerback: 45
Success Rate at left cornerback: 79%

Qualifying Plays at right cornerback: 1
Failed coverages at right cornerback: 1
Success Rate at right cornerback: 100%

Qualifying Plays in the slot: 23
Failed coverages in the slot: 7
Success Rate in the slot: 70%

 

Results versus Routes
(Percentage is Success Rate)

1. Sideline 97%
2. Slant 85%
3. Curl 79%
4. Out 79%
5. Seam 71%
6. Post 70%
7. Crossing 67%
8. Comeback 64%
9. Double Move 60%
10. In 55%

The Verdict

Not much has changed from 2012 to 2013. Except, now Richard Sherman isn’t just an analyst’s secret. Sherman has blown up ever since that moment in the NFC Championship game, but even before then he was getting more recognition as a shutdown cornerback.

He needs to improve in zone coverage, but that’s not to say he’s a bad zone coverage defender. He has bad moments, but he also has brilliant moments. This is the first cornerback this series has looked at this year, so it’s tough to say where he stands, but one thing is certain…

…the bar has been set high, very high.

 

Cian Fahey writes for Bleacher Report, Football Outsiders and Football Guys. You can follow him on twitter @Cianaf 

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