Rodgers has no plans of avoiding Seattle’s Sherman
GREEN BAY, Wis. — Mike McCarthy assumed Richard Sherman would eventually follow Jordy Nelson to the left side of the field. Sherman had his own plan and effectively took away the entire right side.
In the moments after the Green Bay Packers’ Week 1 loss at Seattle, Sherman approached Aaron Rodgers and seemed to confirm his theory that the former NFL MVP quarterback avoided throwing his way. It seemed like a proud moment for the divisive cornerback, a sign of respect for Sherman’s reputation and on-field work.
But with the rematch set for Sunday’s NFC championship game, Rodgers has no intention of limiting which areas of the field he throws to.
"Just depends on who’s open," Rodgers said. "It’s always important to throw it to the right, and throw it to the left a little bit."
The first matchup came at a time when the Packers still had Jarrett Boykin as their No. 3 wide receiver. Boykin played 49 of 62 snaps against the Seahawks and was on the field for a total of 63 percent of Green Bay’s offensive plays in the first three games of the season.
With only two catches for 17 yards in those games (plus two drops), Boykin was surpassed on the depth chart by rookie wide receiver Davante Adams. Boykin has only caught one pass for six yards in the past four months, while Adams has had 100-plus-yard games in recent wins over New England and Dallas.
Having Adams in the third-receiver role rather than Boykin could help Rodgers work the entire field in the passing game, even if it means throwing in the direction of Sherman.
"Well, I plan to throw it to the open guy," Rodgers said. "That’s kind of been the way I’ve played for a number of years. So if the guy on the right is open, I’ll throw it to the right. If the guy on the left is open, I’ll throw it to the left. (I’ll) go through my progressions the way I’ve always played."
It wasn’t like Rodgers didn’t look at Boykin in Week 1. As he went through his progressions, it was obvious when looking to the right side that throwing to Boykin with Sherman in coverage wasn’t a smart plan.
"There was never a ‘don’t throw right’ in the game plan," McCarthy said.
It was the only game all season in which Sherman wasn’t targeted. Eli Manning threw at Sherman eight times in Week 10. Peyton Manning, Tony Romo and Derek Carr each sent six passes to the receiver being covered by Sherman in their respective games.
I don’t think anybody is intimidated. (Richard Sherman) is a great player. The secondary is definitely a great secondary. You have to give them their respect. But the whole Legion of Boom, we’ll see.
Green Bay tight end Andrew Quarless
When Sherman was targeted, quarterbacks rarely won the battle. According to data from ProFootballFocus, Sherman gave up 33 receptions this season (playoffs included), while intercepting five passes and knocking away five others. The opposing quarterback rating on throws to Sherman was 44.2. To put that into perspective, no qualifying NFL quarterback had a passer rating worse than 69.5 for the entirety of the 2014 season. That’s how difficult it was to complete passes near Sherman. Maybe Rodgers was onto something by just not throwing that direction.
As the Packers’ top receiver — and a second-team All-Pro selection — Nelson versus Sherman would be a fair fight. But that might not happen, at least not if Sherman once again opts to remain exclusively on the right side.
"If we get matched up, yeah, obviously it would be a great challenge and a great opportunity, but I’m not going to go out of my way to go over there or anything," Nelson said this week. "We’re just going to run our offense and do what we need to do to win the game."
Nelson added that part of it is a product of Green Bay’s no-huddle offense, and that once the offensive players go to one spot, they stay there for the rest of the drive.
"I honestly really don’t care," Nelson said of going up against Sherman. "I just want to win the game, whatever it takes."
Tight end Andrew Quarless hopes the Packers do go after Sherman.
"I don’t think anybody is intimidated," Quarless said. "He’s a great player. The secondary is definitely a great secondary. You have to give them their respect. But the whole ‘Legion of Boom,’ we’ll see."
It’s that "Legion of Boom," starring Sherman, along with safeties Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas, that few offenses have been able to succeed against. Their physical style presents a unique challenge to wide receivers, especially if the officiating crew is more lenient.
"It depends how tight it’s called with some of the emphasis on illegal contact and holding and pass interference on both sides, offense and defense," Rodgers said. "It’ll be interesting to see how it’s called on Sunday."
Nelson believes the aggressiveness of Seattle’s secondary "varies" from week to week.
"Going back to Week 1, I don’t think it was anything crazy," Nelson said. "But I think there have been times where it has been. So I think it is just going to depend on the game. Obviously there will be a lot of intensity in the game, a lot of energy. It’s always an adjustment every game depending on how (defensive backs) decide to play and how the flow of the game is going to go."
The Seahawks’ defense held Rodgers to his second-lowest passer rating (81.5) and his second-fewest yards per pass attempt (5.7) of the season.
With a trip to the Super Bowl on the line, Green Bay has a big decision in how to approach Sherman. It could also very well require an in-game adjustment if certain aspects aren’t playing out in the Packers’ favor. Certainly what they tried in Week 1 wasn’t the answer.
But between Nelson and Randall Cobb combining for more than 2,800 receiving yards and 25 touchdowns, plus the emergence of Adams, Green Bay should be in a better position to test Sherman this time around.
"We’re playing better," Rodgers said. "(Nelson and Cobb) have obviously been featured players for us on offense. We spread it around well. We’ve had good balance. We ran the ball really well the past three weeks. The offensive line has been playing really well."
Follow Paul Imig on Twitter