Seahawks vs Saints, NFL playoffs: Key matchups, Richard Sherman versus Marques Colston

Jonathan Ferrey

We didn't hear much from Colston this year, but he was about as valuable as ever. Does Sherman have said skills to pay said bills?

I am not sure how many of these I will be able to get through over the next 2-3 days, but I had planned on fitting them all into one article. However, as soon as I started tackling the first issue of Sherman versus Colston, I realized there was more than enough fodder to constitute a single article.

So without further ado, hello mother, here's your fodder:

Richard Sherman vs Marques Colston

We didn't hear a whole lot about Colston this season, at least as not as much as we're used to, and that's probably because he had a career-low 62.9 yards per game and because Jimmy Graham is amazing. Colston had 75 catches for 943 yards and five touchdowns.

His lowest catches total since 2009.

His lowest yardage total since 2008.

His lowest touchdowns total since 2008.

One other thing about Marques "He must be garbage now" Colston? Is that Football Outsiders ranked him 12th in DYAR and 14th in DVOA, leading this reporter to believe he must not be hot, sticky, Nawlin's garbage after all. Because the last time that I checked, if there were even only four wide receivers per team (and there certainly are a bit more than that on average, I'd think) that would still make Colston (4x32 = 128) in the top 10-percent of receivers in the NFL.

Pro Football Focus doesn't disagree, putting Colston 14th in their ratings and 11th when purely looking at skills in the passing game. The only place where the two advanced stats publications seem to disagree is on how many targets Colston received.

FO says he had 110 and PFF says he had 107. If you go with PFF, that gives him a catch rate north of 70-percent (11th overall) meaning that if you decide to go with FO's numbers instead... he still catches all the balls from the windows to the walls.

As a receiver, there is little difference between Colston and a player like the Bears' Brandon Marshall. (By pure coincidence only, Chicago's offensive coordinator is Aaron Kromer, the former offensive line and interim coach of the Saints in 2012.) They go down the field 10 yards, you throw them the football, they catch it, get one or three more yards, and that's the end of it. (Note the term "as a receiver" because PFF rates Marshall as an otherworldly blocker and Colston as a blocker of Earth.)

New Orleans runs a high-scoring offense, to be sure, but it's not the "deep passing" team you might immediately think of when you think of quick-scoring, high-passing-yardage offenses. Drew Brees attempts just 11.8-percent of his passes downfield, which is only 14th in the NFL. By comparison, Russell Wilson attempts the third-most downfield passes (15+ yards of distance in the air) at 14.7-percent.

The Saints will use deep threats, of course, like Kenny Stills (20 YPC) and Robert Meachem (20.3 YPC) but Colston is Brees's bread-slash-butter. If you want to beat all the vampires, you cut off the head of the leader of the vampires. That's football 101. Vampires.

In their earlier meeting this season, Colston was held to four catches and 27 yards. He was targeted seven times and all three of his not-caught targets were on the right side, which is where I assume (sorry about making you an ass) Sherman was hanging all night.

Otherwise, things were still pretty solid, and Brees was 0-for-8 (zero-for-eigggghhhtt) on deep targets.

If you stop Colston, you're giving yourself a solid chance at stopping the offense. The Patriots held him to one catch for 11 yards this season and beat the Saints 30-27. However, the Eagles held him to two catches for 16 yards and lost in the wild card round, but just barely.

After the Eagles game, Colston told reporters "That first night against (the Seahawks) was not us. We feel like we are a better team and we have to prove that."

Is he right, or are the Saints "who we thought they are" and will we let 'em off the hook?

That question starts and ends with Richard Sherman. If Sherman is matched against Colston for most of the game, he could have issues again.

PFF rated all the corners, as they are wont to do, and ultimately their grades had Sherman as the sixth-best cornerback in football this year. But as grades are hard to understand, if not arbitrary or baseless, we can at least look at the numbers they tracked and hopefully lend some credence to them. And you're going to want to creed the fuck out of these stats. They can take you higher.

Opposing quarterbacks threw at Sherman 58 times this season and completed 30 of those (51.7-percent, 14th-best in the league) for 421 yards. Sherman allowed 14 yards per catch (only 30th among corners) but 73 of those yards went to TY Hilton and the Colts in Week 5. I'm not saying that the play doesn't count, but any good analysis should throw out the extremes and if you threw out that one extreme, Sherman would've allowed only 39 yards after the catch instead of 112.

Just to repeat that, as I've skipped ahead for a second, but Sherman allowed 112 yards after the catch on 30 allowed catches for an average of only 3.73 YAC/catch. And seventy-three of those yards were on a single play!

To give you an idea of perspective, remember that 3.7 yards after the catch per catch is about the average of what guys like Colston and Marshall put up, but Golden Tate was at the top of the league with a mark of 7.9. But if you looked at the other 29 catches that Sherman allowed and measured the 39 non-TY YAC totals, then you can already start to get a sense of how stopped you were once you made a catch on Sherman if you made a catch on Sherman.

That's 1.34 YAC/C.

Sherman allowed two touchdowns, had eight interceptions, and the 47.3 passer rating that he allowed to opposing quarterbacks was the best mark of any cornerback in the NFL. It's possible that Sherman could allow Colston to catch three or four passes again, but given his mark of just 12.6 yards per catch, and his low YAC versus Sherman's low YAC, there's a high probability that the Saints best receiver-receiver, will be held to no more than 50 yards.

Oh, and if you were wondering what might happen if Colston shifts to the other side or if Brees focuses his attention more on Kenny Stills & Nash, I'll just give you this tidbit of information:

Sherman was first in the NFL in opposing passer rating at 47.3, and Byron Maxwell was second in the NFL at 47.8. No other corner in the league was under 50.0.

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