Sherman/Revis debate rages going into Super Bowl XLIX
Two years ago, Richard Sherman proclaimed that he had succeeded Darrelle Revis as the NFL’s best cornerback.
The argument is no closer to ending than when it began.
Sherman and Revis stated their cases on the field during the 2014 season. Both will have the chance to do so again Sunday when Seattle and New England meet in Super Bowl XLIX.
Rather than get into another spat like on Twitter in 2013, Revis and Sherman have avoided a war of words when asked about the topic by Super Bowl media. Revis allowed that Sherman was "great at what he does. I’m not really knocking him." Sherman refused to say whether he still considered himself the best at his position, dismissing a reporter’s inquiry as a "preschool question."
It’s also one that doesn’t have an easy answer.
As explained by two other Pro Bowl cornerbacks (Arizona’s Antonio Cromartie and Cleveland’s Joe Haden), Sherman and Revis are used in completely different ways so a direct comparison is almost impossible.
Sherman rarely strays from his spot at left cornerback in a Seattle defense that features two primary coverage schemes: "Cover 1" (press coverage) or "Cover 3" in which Sherman is responsible for smothering deep routes on his third of the field.
"The system he’s in works perfectly for him," Cromartie said. "With Cover 3, you’re always going to have help so you don’t have to worry about anything underneath. You can cover the deep ball. That’s what he does very well."
The Patriots deploy Revis almost exclusively in man-to-man coverage on both sides of the field. He is assigned to outside and slot receivers depending on who New England considers the opposition’s top target. Revis also is responsible for covering all types of routes.
"He doesn’t have help or people dropping into the curl flat," Haden said. "You have the slant, the out, the curl, the dig, the sluggo, the comeback. It’s different than being in the zone and Richard being able to look back at the quarterback and play like that."
Revis and Sherman also have different personalities. Sherman is a far bigger talker who cemented his spot on the national stage through a WWE-style interview with FOX Sports sideline reporter Erin Andrews ripping San Francisco wide receiver Michael Crabtree after last year’s NFC championship game. Sherman also had a testy post-game exchange with Tom Brady following a 2012 Seattle home win in which he famously asked the Patriots quarterback, "You mad, bro?" while he was leaving the field.
Such bravado extends to Sherman’s teammates whose outspoken style stands in stark contrast to New England’s button-down approach toward the media.
"What I’ve learned over the years is a lot of guys talk," Brady said. "What you need to do is go out there and play. Back it up. They’ve been able to back it up, so that’s why it works for them."
Sherman backs his bluster with big plays when opposing teams even bother throwing in his direction. Just ask Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers. One of the NFL’s best passers didn’t test Sherman in the Packers’ season-opening loss to Seattle. When he did in the NFC championship game, Sherman intercepted a Rodgers pass in the end zone to kill an early drive.
Sherman is a major reason why Seattle led the NFL in pass defense, total defense and fewest points allowed during the regular season.
"He’s an extremely savvy football player," Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said. "He can take in all of the elements and the indicators that come up from a lineman to stances to quarterback reads to style of play and incorporate that into his decision-making.
"His ability to analyze and break down things that are happening is really phenomenal. That’s why he’s so unique and special."
Revis isn’t as brash or outspoken on a variety of topics like Sherman, who has called out NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Patriots owner Robert Kraft this week for having a chummy relationship. But there is no lack of confidence in Revis, especially since he is now fully recovered from a 2012 knee injury that lingered into the following season with Tampa Bay.
"Darrelle is a big-time technician," said Cromartie, who played alongside Revis for three years with the New York Jets. "He’s not a fast guy but a guy who relies heavily on his technique."
That was quickly noticed by Patriots cornerback Brandon Browner, who spent the previous three years with Sherman in Seattle before signing with New England in the 2014 offseason.
"It never seems like (Revis) takes a false step left or right," Browner said. "His game is pretty smooth and polished. It seems like he isn’t running as hard as the guy he is covering. The guy he is covering always seems like he is sprinting and (Revis) kind of has a jog about his game."
Revis became the most prized cornerback on the free-agent market last year following his surprising release by the Buccaneers where new management didn’t believe he was worth a $16 million base salary for 2014. After losing cornerback Aqib Talib to Denver, the Patriots jumped at the chance to sign a replacement who always gave New England quarterback Tom Brady fits in six seasons of AFC East matchups against the Jets (2007 to 2012).
Although he may not be the shutdown "Revis Island" of old, Revis usually wins the battle against the NFL’s elite wide receivers. New England’s defense has become much more creative than in recent seasons now that coaches can rely on Revis and Browner and not worry about coverage busts.
"It’s always changing and ever-evolving," Patriots secondary coach Josh Boyer said. "The key to it is we’re always trying to put guys in the best position to succeed. Obviously, if you’ve got more guys able to succeed at positions, it makes it a little bit easier (to scheme)."
Revis and Sherman do share traits that have helped them flourish. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick described them both as having "good ball skills, good concentration, good ability to defend the primary routes, and with good reactive quickness and length and size to handle the routes that they’re not as heavy on.
"I mean, you can’t cover everything," Belichick continued. "If they’re outside, you can’t cover inside as well. If you’re inside, you can’t cover outside as well. So there’s always a part of the route that you’re a little bit lighter on, there’s a route that you have leverage. It’s finding a way to somehow compensate for that lack of leverage on the technique. Length, anticipation and quickness are a big part of it. They both have that."
Both also are film junkies (Seahawks cornerback Byron Maxwell described Sherman as having the knowledge "of a 15-year veteran"; Revis may as well get the remote clicker surgically implanted in his hand). Both are aggressive to the football when having the chance to make an interception. And both enter Super Bowl XLIX squarely in the spotlight, which is unusual considering the nature of what isn’t a glamour position like quarterback or wide receiver.
"I think it says that the game’s changing a little bit," said Sherman, who is completing his fourth NFL season. "It also says something to the level of play that we’re playing at and also how fantastic of a season we both must be having if we’re bringing that much attention to the game.
"It’s appreciated. Obviously as corners and elite corners, there’s a certain respect level and admiration because you understand what it takes to play this position at a high level and how fragile the praise is. You give up one pass for 10 yards and they say the world’s over. You get two interceptions in a game and they say that’s what you’re supposed to do. That’s just what comes with the territory."
So does the debate about whether Sherman or Revis is best.
"I think (Super Bowl XLIX) is a great opportunity for an astute fan to really watch these guys and see how they play and how the offenses give those guys their opportunities to do what they can do," Carroll said. "It’ll be cool to see what happens.
"I’m looking forward to seeing it, too."
Alex Marvez and co-host Kirk Morrison interviewed Antonio Cromartie and Joe Haden on SiriusXM NFL Radio.