Gif of the Week: Richard Sherman's stiff-arm jam on Steve Smith

Joe Nicholson-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

"If you don't have the mental aspect of the game down, that's one advantage (opponents) have on you. Because you know, everybody has the physical attributes at this level - everybody can run fast, jump high, do everything you need to do to be successful, but studying film for hours, and hours, and watching receivers, and watching splits, and watching second down, third down, first down, red zone, everything, that gives you a different kind of advantage.

"It kind of gives you a strategic advantage, because, when it's third and five, and you've watched every third and five they've had for the last four or five games, you know which route combinations they like out of which formations, and when they show you the formations you want to see, it makes it very easy to stop them.

"I've been watching film on ...pretty much all the receivers we're going to be going against [this year]. That's the only way you can prepare. If you go into the game blind, and you don't know their tendencies, their offensive tendencies, -- there are offensive tendencies - the plays they run, the plays they love, their bread and butter, then you have receivers -- the routes they love, the routes they're going to get open on. If it's fourth and five and they're going for it, you want to know which routes they have in their bag."

- Richard Sherman, June 16th, 2012 in an interview with John Clayton

Fairly non-descript incompletions on 2nd down tend to go overlooked after a game like Sunday's, and in the case of the play I wanted to break down below, probably, most people were concerned with the blatant push-off offensive pass interference that Steve Smith administered to Richard Sherman, which went uncalled.

Watching the play below, though, I was reminded of Sherman's interview with John Clayton over the summer because the more I watch it, the more I think this was the manifestation of extensive film study to the field of play for the Seahawks' talented and intelligent cornerback.

Here's why -- two things stand out to me, 1) Richard Sherman's stab, stiff-arm jam on Steve Smith on the snap and 2) his footwork and eye focus.

Below you can see that the Panthers are just past mid-field and driving. This is the play directly following Earl Thomas' dropped interception, and Carolina are now in 2nd and 10. The Seahawks have their wonky defensive line splits going on, strength to the defensive left, and Earl Thomas has creeped up into the middle of the field, just behind linebacker K.J. Wright.

Sherman, again, because I think this was definitely at play here - "Studying film for hours, and hours, and watching receivers, and watching splits, and watching second down, third down, first down, red zone, everything, that gives you a different kind of advantage. It kind of gives you a strategic advantage, because, when it's third and five, and you've watched every third and five they've had for the last four or five games, you know which route combinations they like out of which formations, and when they show you the formations you want to see, it makes it very easy to stop them.

"I've been watching film on ...pretty much all the receivers we're going to be going against [this year]. That's the only way you can prepare. If you go into the game blind, and you don't know their tendencies, their offensive tendencies, -- there are offensive tendencies - the plays they run, the plays they love, their bread and butter, then you have receivers -- the routes they love, the routes they're going to get open on. If it's fourth and five and they're going for it, you want to know which routes they have in their bag."

Screen_shot_2012-10-11_at_11

The way this snap plays out, though I have no real way of knowing (and much like Earl Thomas' play that I broke down last week), I'm almost certain that Richard Sherman knew what route and throw were coming before the ball was even snapped, and it was based on his hours of preparation and recognition of splits, down and distance, and possibly even protection calls from Newton.

In his interview with Clayton, Sherman hit on some of the advantages that he has from his time playing receiver, noting that he has a heightened awareness of "what the quarterbacks are looking for, protections they're in." For instance, he explains, "I'll hear a few protections that quarterbacks are shouting out, and I'll know - whether it's going to be quick game, whether it's going to be 5-step (drop), you know, because I know protections."

Below, you'll see the play unfold. Sherman gets a nice jam on Smith, and that quick jam is the absolute key to the play. It's a bang-bang quick-throw play for Carolina, and it's wholly dependent on timing and location. Cam Newton has to trust Steve Smith on this - and make no mistake, Smith is one of the most trustworthy receivers in the NFL so I don't blame Newton for throwing this ball at all.

However, Sherman's jab disrupts Smith for a half second, and this half-second lost at the line of scrimmage is the difference between the play succeeding or the play failing.

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Watch closely.

In this route for Smith - it's his responsibility to get ten yards deep, at a particular spot on the field, and get his head turned around for the oncoming pass from Newton. This route should coincide, timing-wise, with Newton's drop-back perfectly, and Smith should have the ball on his hands right as he turns. This is the NFL - Newton isn't waiting for Smith to look back and flash his hands at his quarterback.

It's a game of timing and precision, and exactly as planned and designed, Sherman's jam slows Smith up for a half second, disrupting the timing and location of Smith's route. The ball hits Smith in the thigh almost exactly as he's turning his head to find the ball -- push-off on Sherman ignored. Again, this is why you see a jam at the line. It's not just to show the receiver how tough you are.

Smith is a bit of a hothead, and may or may not be reacting to the violent jam - but the push-off became necessary as Sherman broke on the pass he knew was coming (maybe all along), and you can tell by simply watching Sherman's eyes - his gaze is only on Smith for a split second after making his turn -- it's on Newton almost the whole time, and as Sherman sees Newton release his pass, he breaks on the ball. He's drifting back still as he gets shoved, but he was getting ready to make an interception -- you can see his arms come up as he tracks the football.

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Watch the slow-motion gif -- and watch it several times to admire the beauty of Sherman's defense. Now that you're done watching it, you should note again that Sherman's eyes remain in the backfield, his defined chop-step happens as he sees the ball in flight. He has a right to the ball if his head is turned, so Smith's push-off becomes necessary to avoid an interception (whether that was Smith's intention is unclear, but it does work to keep Sherman from picking off the pass he sees coming a full half-second before Smith).

Full-speed close-up here.

As Frank "Big Cat" "The Tank" Ricard might say -- "That's the way you do it. That's the way you play cornerback!"

Big ups to BigTrain21 for facilitating my request for the gifs above. Not only are BigTrain's gifs better quality than most I've seen around the interwebs, they come on-demand. I emailed the request yesterday afternoon, and had four gifs within an hour -- in different angles and speeds. So - put your hands together for the man, the myth, the legend... BigTrain21.

This post is sponsored by Jack in the Box.

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