Richard Sherman’s week just got a lot more intriguing.
So did Sunday’s Seahawks-Cowboys game.
Dallas’ All-Pro wide receiver Dez Bryant returned to practice Wednesday on a limited basis; he hasn’t played since he broke a bone in his foot in the opener seven weeks ago. His return increases the likelihood Sherman will be shadowing Bryant for the second time in two seasons Sunday when Seattle (3-4) plays at Dallas (2-4) in Arlington, Texas.
It would be as starry a one-on-one matchup in the Lone Star State as there can be in an NFL game.
For years the biggest criticism of Sherman’s All-Pro cornerback play was he only plays one side of the field, that he doesn’t stay with the opponent’s best receiver.
Sherman’s response was always a characteristically colorful variation of “I don’t care what people say.”
This year, that critique of Sherman is as passé as pagers.
New defensive coordinator Kris Richard, promoted in the spring from Sherman’s defensive backs coach, employed him away from his left-side cornerback spot inside as the nickelback against Green Bay’s Randall Cobb in Week 2. He had Sherman man-to-man last week against Torrey Smith at San Francisco. And Sherman went head-up on A.J. Green this month in Cincinnati, after the Bengals star shredded the Seahawks’ other cornerback, Cary Williams, in the first quarter.
So much for Sherman being anchored to his left side.
Seattle coach Pete Carroll said Sherman’s experience added to his supreme size (6-feet-3) and athleticism makes him ideal to play all over now. It makes sense that trend will continue, with Dallas possibly getting one of the league’s best receivers back for the opportunity to end a four-game losing streak.
So what does the always-glib Sherman say now to those critics that he’s shadowing the game’s best?
“I can’t act like I care now,” Sherman said, laughing, “when I acted like I didn’t care before.
“I’ve never been a selfish player, or somebody who gets to call the plays — unfortunately. If I did, who knows what I’d be doing. Unlike what a lot of the fans and critics think, I do not call plays.
“I’ll just keep doing my job that I’m asked to do.”
Sherman has zero interceptions this season yet still owns the most in the league (24) since 2011, the year Seattle drafted him in the fifth round out of Stanford. His playing all over allows backup cornerback Marcus Burley, who is returning this week from a broken thumb, into games to continue a strong season of coverage. It allows the Seahawks to get the at-times-struggling Williams in more favorable pairings outside. It frees strong safety Kam Chancellor to focus more on tight ends, and that’s a good idea for Sunday. Dallas’ Jason Witten is a 10-time Pro Bowl tight end.
“He’s experienced now and he has the flexibility and the awareness to be able to move around,” Carroll said of Sherman. “We did things with him in the nickel package that allows him to be inside, which the more that he can do that the more you can allow guys to match up, because they can get caught inside on different formations and things like that.
“He loves the challenge of it. He has a great mentality about it, which is a big part of it. … It’s his great awareness and really his belief in his own ability to match those kinds of things up and take to those challenges in a special way.”
There’s another reason the Seahawks are having Sherman shadow top wideouts: It works.
On Oct. 11, Green had 44 yards on three catches plus a 72-yard touchdown catch called back by penalty in the first quarter against the Seahawks. Then Sherman got on Green all over the field.
Green caught just one pass over the final two quarters of regulation and overtime.
Last week during Seattle’s steamrolling of San Francisco, Sherman covered the 49ers’ lone deep threat, speedy Torrey Smith. Made him disappear, in fact. Smith had zero catches. Niners quarterback Colin Kaepernick targeted him just once in 30 drop backs. It was only the third time since the first month of Smith’s rookie season of 2011 he had one or zero targets in a game.
Sherman didn’t learn until the day before that Thursday game he was shadowing Smith. Part of the reason for that could be Seattle’s coaches wanting Sherman to prepare for the moves of all opposing outside receivers, not just one.
“I don’t really know when I am going to do it, honestly, until the day of the game,” Sherman said. “It’s a fun challenge when I am asked to do it … to match up.”
Of course, having Sherman shadowing Bryant would come with a risk — it could leave Williams often one-on-one outside with Terrance Williams. Williams has 10 touchdown catches in his last season and a half. His 18-yard catch while exquisitely toeing the sideline on third down extended Dallas’ winning drive at Seattle a year ago.
As for the growing likelihood he will be manning up on Bryant all over AT&T Stadium on Sunday in Texas, Sherman’s all for it.
“It’d be a lot of fun. He’s a great player,” Sherman said. “We’ve had some pretty cool battles over our four, five years. It’d be fun.”
In Dallas’ 30-23 upset win at Seattle last season, Seattle’s then-starting corner Byron Maxwell got hurt. So Sherman shadowed Bryant for 48 snaps that day, one of the few times he did that last year.
Now-injured Tony Romo threw six times to Bryant with Sherman on him last Oct. 12 at CenturyLink Field. Bryant caught two passes on Sherman, for 23 and 16 yards. The second one was a back-shoulder throw with Sherman all over him.
“He’s one of the best, man. Arguably the best,” Bryant said after that game.
What did Sherman learn doing that about the two-time Pro Bowl receiver?
“Nothing I didn’t know,” Sherman said. “He’s an explosive player. Catches the ball high. He goes and attacks the ball. You have to be very physical, every play. You have to be on your toes every play, or else he’s going to beat you.”
Oh, and in the case the Seahawks don’t have him shadow Bryant, did he use the team’s off day last Sunday to watch the Cowboys play the Giants on television, to learn more about Dallas’ other receivers?
“We were watching… I can’t really tell you guys what we were watching. It was a combination of Octonauts, and my son really likes those shows so you can’t blame him,” Sherman said of 8-month-old Rayden. “He gets upset. He doesn’t always want to watch football, so you don’t always get those calls that you want to make.”