Adrenaline is a powerful force.
Without it, Richard Sherman sounded like anyone else on Wednesday — anyone other than what the Seahawks’ three-time All-Pro sounded like 10 days earlier.
On Oct. 2, Sherman was moments removed from finishing off a two-interception game while shadowing star Brandon Marshall of the New York Jets. He said then he couldn’t wait to face Atlanta Falcons All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones this Sunday at CenturyLink Field.
On Wednesday, four days before Seattle (3-1) returns from its bye to host Atlanta (4-1) in a showdown of division leaders, Sherman was as bland as Saltines about the faceoff.
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“Yeah, it’s going to be fun. It’s going to be a fun matchup for our defense to go against their offense,” Sherman said.
“Blah, blah, blah, blah.”
He didn’t actually finish with that. But in tone, expression and meaning, he may as well have.
The same day Sherman had, against the Jets, his first two-interception game in three years, Jones was scorching Carolina. He became the sixth NFL player to amass 300 yards receiving in a game.
“I heard Julio went off,” Sherman said on Oct. 2. “That’d be fun. Three hundred? That’s what he had? That’s going to be a big deal. He’s a good friend, and it’s going to be a fun matchup battling him.”
The question of whether the Seahawks defense will or won’t have Sherman shadow Jones on Sunday renews what’s been a semi-regular topic for the last two seasons.
For years, critics of the star cornerback complained that he generally stayed to his assigned, left side of the field, covering whoever came that way.
Defensive coordinator Kris Richard, Sherman’s promoted defensive backs coach in Seattle, has put Sherman on opponents’ top receivers in his two seasons of scheming the Seahawks defense — more than his predecessor did. That predecessor was Dan Quinn, the Falcons head coach.
When safety Kam Chancellor was holding out and nickel back Jeremy Lane was injured in September 2015, Sherman moved inside to the nickel against slot receiver Randall Cobb at Green Bay. He began shadowing top wide receivers all over the field in earnest opposite A.J. Green at Cincinnati in October. He limited Dez Bryant at Dallas in November and Antonio Brown of Pittsburgh after Thanksgiving.
Sherman didn’t shadow anyone in the first three games of this season. That’s because the relatively tepid offenses the Seahawks faced didn’t have a lone, top receiver that warranted his full attention.
But the Jets’ Marshall did in game four.
Marshall, whom Sherman calls a Hall of Fame-caliber player, jumped with the cornerback at the end of the first half for a touchdown catch. It seemed to embolden New York’s Ryan Fitzpatrick to throw more at Sherman.
Sherman got his revenge: two interceptions in the fourth quarter.
Now comes Jones with Atlanta’s league-best passing game and highest-scoring offense. The three-time Pro Bowl receiver co-led the NFL last season with 136 catches for a league-high 1,871 yards. He has 24 catches through five games this season. His average of 21.5 yards per reception leads the NFC.
So there is no reason the Seahawks won’t have Sherman on him all over CenturyLink Field on Sunday. Maybe not for the entire game, but for its most important parts.
Not that the Seahawks are saying so.
“We just take a bucket full of thoughts and decide what seems to fit best,” is all coach Pete Carroll would say Wednesday.
Asked when he finds out that he’s going to be shadowing, Sherman said: “Sometimes I find out in the middle of the game.” That’s what happened last fall at Cincinnati, after now-gone cornerback Cary Williams had all kinds of coverage issues early in that game.
Carroll offered a reason why Sherman didn’t track a single receiver in his seasons under Quinn and Gus Bradley, Seattle’s defensive coordinator in 2011 and 2012.
“I think just over the course of time, getting flipped over on the other side early on when he was just playing on the left side, he just had more opportunity to become comfortable,” said Carroll, a former defensive back. “It’s different. It’s not the exact same. It feels different when the ball is in the air, particularly on the deep ball, and guys have to get accustomed to that.
“He is there; he can do all that now. But it’s also not just him. It has to do with the other guys. If the other player is flipping (in this season’s case, opposite cornerback DeShawn Shead), that’s part of the variable also.
“We’re at a point where we can do whatever we need to do now.”
Jones’ dozen catches in a shredding of Carolina two weeks ago cost Bene Benwikere his job when the Panthers cut the veteran defensive back days later. Last weekend, Jones had two catches in six targets for 29 yards as the Broncos played a combination man-to-man, with a cornerback underneath and two safeties patrolling deep zones behind (“two-man” coverage).
But as Sherman noted, the Falcons rolled up 122 yards rushing instead and routed the defending Super Bowl champions. The final score was 23-16, but Atlanta led Denver, 23-6, in the fourth quarter.
Like Sherman, Jones downplayed their likely faceoff.
“Just expect everything,” Jones said. “You expect to be followed, or if they don’t follow you. You have to be prepared for everything.
“If that’s what they think is going to slow me down, or give them the best chance at being successful, that’s what they’re going to do. I’m not their coach to decide that. It’s whatever they do. I’m not calling anyone out or anything, nor am I going to shy away from competition.
“I’m definitely going to compete every play. It doesn’t matter who’s guarding me.”
Jones was drafted sixth overall when Atlanta traded what seemed like half its franchise, plus the Georgia Dome, to get him in 2011. Seattle drafted Sherman in the fifth round that year.
Sherman has befriended Jones at previous Pro Bowls, and their agents share the same management company.
“We’ve connected throughout,” Sherman said. “We’ve connected at Pro Bowl, at various events, at Super Bowls. We had some great conversations, he and I and (Houston receiver DeAndre) Hopkins sat down and had a pretty good chat, just about ball and growing and life.
“He’s a fascinating dude.”
On Sunday, when that adrenaline returns, it’s going to be a fascinating game within the game.
“I would say they’ll probably see that matchup a few times,” Quinn said. “I’d say what the fans should expect is two real dog competitors wanting to go battle for it. That’s one of coolest parts about our game, when you get to compete at the highest level. Really, two technicians and guys who work with their craft.
“I watch the wide-receiver play in Julio; he’s one the very greatest football minds at his position. He has a real understanding of the game, the coverage, the leverage. And that was one of the things when I first met Sherm, that I was so impressed with his football knowledge growing stronger through the years.
“That’ll be a classic matchup that we’re looking forward to being a part of.”
Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle