Seattle's big CBs face challenge in Atlanta's WRs
Taken individually, Roddy White and Julio Jones rank among the NFL's elite at wide receiver.
As a tandem, Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman doesn't know if there is a better duo.
''As a tandem, they're probably the top tandem out there,'' Sherman said. ''It's going to be a tough matchup for us, but it's fun to play against good players.''
Sunday's NFC divisional playoff game between Seattle and Atlanta will feature a fascinating matchup between Sherman and fellow Seahawks cornerback Brandon Browner and the Falcons' receiving duo of White and Jones.
It's the big, physical cornerbacks of the Seahawks, who because of their skills allow Seattle's defense to be unique, against the big, physical and fast receivers who make the Falcons' offense go.
''I expect our guys to try to play like they always play. They don't need to change anything because we're not doing anything different, we're going to try and hang with them, and we'll find out what happens,'' Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. ''This is probably the best pair and pair that you could match up, and because of the size, and because of their physical nature in the way that they play, it's going to be really exciting to see.''
While neither was the Falcons' leading receiver - that honor went to tight end Tony Gonzalez - White and Jones are coming off excellent regular seasons. White had more catches with 92 versus Jones' 79. Jones caught more touchdowns with 10, compared to White's seven. They combined for more than 2,500 yards receiving.
But Browner and Sherman were stars on the defensive side. They combined for 11 interceptions - despite Browner missing four games due to suspension - and 30 passes defensed, with 24 of those by Sherman.
Whoever wins those matchups likely won't be the most important element in Sunday's game. But it could be the most entertaining.
''Everybody is talking about it,'' Atlanta center Todd McClure said. ''They've got good corners. We've got good receivers. I think when you look back on this game Sunday afternoon, whoever wins that matchup will probably be successful on the field. There's a lot more to it, but I think that will be one deciding factor.''
The size of Seattle's cornerbacks - Sherman is 6-foot-3 and Browner is 6-4 - makes for a rare occasion where White and Jones don't possess a major advantage. White goes 6-foot, while Jones is 6-foot-3. The length the two cornerbacks present makes it tougher to find throwing windows and requires more trust between quarterback and receiver.
''Roddy is more crafty of a route runner. He uses different tricks and things. You can see he's a veteran when he's route running,'' Sherman said. ''Julio runs hard routes and plays the game more physical, I think. He's stronger in his routes, he uses his body more.''
Seeing strong, physical wide receivers won't be new for Browner and Sherman. They played against Larry Fitzgerald twice this season and also faced Chicago's Brandon Marshall, Detroit's Calvin Johnson and Dallas' Dez Bryant. Marshall had the biggest day with 10 catches for 165 yards, but Johnson (three catches, 45 yards), Bryant (three, 17 yards) and Fitzgerald (five, 65 yards in two games) were all held in check.
They also have a little bit of experience against Jones and White. The Falcons played at Seattle in Week 4 of 2011. At that time, Sherman was a backup used only when Seattle went to six defensive backs. Jones was clearly the favorite target of quarterback Matt Ryan that day, making 11 receptions and 127 yards.
There are plenty of other concerns for the Seahawks defense, starting with Gonzalez and the versatility of Jacquizz Rodgers out of the backfield. But the skill-position showdown on the outside will be worth keeping an eye on.
''You just have to be accurate with the football and trust in the guys that we have,'' Ryan said. ''We have big, physical wide receivers, as well. You have to trust that they're going to win on their routes.''
AP Sports Writer Charles Odum in Flowery Branch, Ga., contributed to this report.
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