I might as well have been lobbing underhanded to Richard Sherman at his annual charity softball match.
This week I asked the three-time All-Pro cornerback to describe how difficult NFL rules favoring offense make it on defensive backs. The occasion was Sunday’s showdown at CenturyLink Field between the Seahawks (3-1) and Atlanta Falcons (4-1), when Sherman is likely to be shadowing Falcons All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones in a mega game within the game.
Sherman crushed my softball. Shocker.
“A receiver can push you down the field, a receiver can grab you, pull you, and there’s no penalty for that. If you touch him, if you try to defend yourself, if you push him past five yards, illegal touching, that’s an automatic first down. Even if its 3rd and 50, that’s an automatic first down,” Sherman said.
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He was just getting warmed up.
“If you’re standing there in your own spot and they run into you, and they call that illegal contact, that’s an automatic first down -- whether it’s third or fourth and 50, fourth and 15,” he said. “If you’re set up for an easy interception and they tackle you to the ground, that would be a 10-yard penalty (on the receiver), no loss of downs, no anything. They’ll probably get that 10 yards back from another penalty or something. (Defensive) holding? Automatic first down.
“Every penalty that can be called on defense is just about an automatic first down. Very difficult to play in that position.”
But wide receivers get blown up with hits on crossing routes, right? So which position is more difficult to play overall?
“Corner,” Sherman said, “because you never leave the field. You don’t get to leave the field. You don’t get to sub. You don’t get to rotate.
“If there’s two receivers out there on the field, you’re out there. It’s not like you get to swap -- this receiver went out so somebody else comes in. It doesn’t matter. If they’re tired, they get to sub out and bring someone else in.
“That was one of the challenges when we played Denver in the Super Bowl (48, in February 2014). They’re rotating the receivers in and out every three plays and we’re out there. They get to get fresh. They get to take a breather and take a break. Sometimes the receivers never even go back to the huddle. They’ll just run out to the sideline and you turn around. You’re 60 yards down the field and a new receiver is standing there.
“That’s something that some people don’t think about playing corner.”
Of course, the Seahawks annhilated those Broncos 43-8 for Seattle’s first NFL championship.
These Falcons arrive in Seattle for Sunday’s game as the league’s highest-scoring and most prolific passing offense. Matt Ryan through five games is on pace to break the NFL record of 5,477 yards passing set by Peyton Manning -- on those 2013 Broncos Sherman referenced.
I asked linebacker K.J. Wright when his Seahawks last faced an offense as good as Atlanta’s is right now.
“I don’t think I’ve seen an offense like this,” Wright said. “The way they can do just everything – run the ball, throw it vertically, tight end is good, got two running backs that are really good – it’s been a LONG time.
“You tell me.”
I mentioned Manning and Denver’s from that ‘13 season.
“No,” Wright said, scoffing. “This is much better than that offense. Trust me.”