On Tuesday, I was on the social media micro-blogging website (you can typically find these on the internet) "Twitter" when I posted a football statistic that gained significant traction (sig-trac) after it was retweeted by the http://www.profootballfocus.com twitter account:
Per @PFF, Including playoffs, Richard Sherman has allowed a passer rating of 38.7 this season. Darrelle Revis? 70.5.— Kenneth Arthur (@KennethArthuRS) January 27, 2015
This is a pretty staggering difference.
Against Darrelle Revis, quarterbacks have been 2014 Josh McCown. Against Richard Sherman, they've been 1998 Ryan Leaf.
Of course, most of my followers are fans of the Seahawks, a football club that resides in the Pacific Northwest, but when PFF retweets you to their 125,000 followers, you tend to pick up some responses from people that don't -- as Gustav Flaubert wrote in 'Madame Bovary' -- "don't give a flying fuck about the Seahawks." There were a lot of responses from people I don't care about that were saying that for a number of reasons, Sherman and Revis aren't comparable and therefore, the McCown-to-Leaf difference doesn't mean anything.
Which in it of itself suggests that what we've suspected about the internet all along is actually true: You don't need to pass first grade to get online.
That doesn't mean that Revis isn't one of the NFL's best cornerbacks, and it doesn't even mean that Sherman is necessarily better than Revis, because there are a lot of factors to consider outside of passer rating to a certain receiver, but I was still bothered by the fact that none of the responses I got were smart. They were, what I would call, stupid af.
What most NFL fans do, and this isn't just fans of the New England Patriots, is believe what they're told.
They've been told that Revis is the best corner in the NFL. They've been told that Sherman doesn't leave his 1/7th of the field. They've been told he covers a team's second best receiver. They've been told that Sherman isn't shit without Earl Thomas. They've also been told that Sherman is the best corner in the game ... by Sherman. Which is very irksome and so people want Sherman to be overrated. But there's a problem.
Arguments that he's overrated or that Revis is clearly better are total bullshit. In fact, the argument doesn't even make much sense. Here's why:
We know that Sherman and the rest of the Seahawks secondary plays a zone and rarely leaves their respective sides of the field. Sherman is assigned a side of the field and the Seattle defense challenges offenses to put any receiver on him that they want to. People tend to think this means that Sherman never covers a number one, so he's shutting down players that suck. But is that true?
Well, first of all, let's talk about the players he could be covering, because just because you're a number two, it doesn't mean you're shit.
At this point, a good number of teams have two receivers that could be considered "number one receivers." The distinction of a "one versus a two" is just semantics in this era of football. Roddy White was a number one receiver up until the point that the Atlanta Falcons drafted Julio Jones. There's an argument to be made that Randall Cobb is better than Jordy Nelson.
That's not to say that Sherman only covers a number two or that Revis exclusively covers a number one, or that every team has two good receivers, but the differences between the players that the two corners cover isn't as vast as some people want you to believe. Or that Revis shuts down any player he faces a la the myth of "Revis Island."
Against the Baltimore Ravens in the divisional round, Steve Smith faced off against Revis and the results were mixed for both sides. Smith only caught three of four targets for 44 yards, but he beat Revis for a 9-yard touchdown and the Pats corner also had a pass interference and holding penalty. Revis locked down one of the game's best receivers for most of the game, but Sherman has allowed just one touchdown over 18 games.
None of which to say that Revis is bad, or that he couldn't be the best corner in the game, but it does show how quickly you can pick apart a player if you focus on one thing and ignore a myriad of other facts.
Still, I can give you a myriad of other facts if you like.
Going back to the idea that Sherman only covers number two receivers, let's take another look at how they did covering these guys. By the end of the regular season, Seattle ranked sixth against number two receivers, per FootballOutsiders.
So is that it? Is Sherman's prowess only good enough for the team to be ranked sixth against number two receivers? How could the league's best corner only be sixth-best even when not facing off against a team's best receiver?
Here's the question I actually want to ask though: If you're avoiding Sherman by not putting your best receiver on his side of the field, and if the Seahawks are a great secondary that allowed the fewest passing yards in the NFL this season, then is Byron Maxwell the best corner of all-time?!?!
Seattle ranked fourth against opposing number one receivers, per DVOA, and Maxwell actually missed games against the Rams, Panthers, and Raiders. To evaluate Sherman, you have to also evaluate the total output from the opposing passing game, because it's not enough to just say that he's constantly "catching a break," you have to also explain why the Seahawks pass defense doesn't break like you silly Americans under the fist of Mother Russia.
In two games against Seattle, Jordy Nelson caught 14 of 22 targets for 154 yards. The two individual performances were his 9th and 11th biggest outputs of the season. Randall Cobb caught 13 of 19 targets for 120 yards. They were his 11th and 12th biggest games.
In the NFC Championship, Aaron Rodgers did decide to challenge Sherman early (something he did zero times in Week 1) and found out that Sherman possesses a unique set of wide receiver skills that resulted in the pass being taken for an interception. You want to test Richard Sherman?
Now, there's definitely something to be said for the fact that Maxwell is very good. When Tharold Simon was forced to start in his place, especially in the divisional round against the Panthers, the difference was night and day compared to what we are used to seeing. Kelvin Benjamin caught every pass thrown his way, and was typically in single coverage against Simon. Maxwell is important, but the suggestion would be that because Sherman doesn't move around to cover a team's "best" receiver, he never does (not true) and therefore, Maxwell must be the one usually covering the number one.
And also, Maxwell should be seeing more targets than just about any corner in the NFL, because Sherman still sees the fewest.
Including the playoffs, Sherman has played in 1,130 defensive snaps this season and been targeted 72 times, per ProFootballFocus. That is the seventh-highest number of snaps for a corner and the 53rd-highest number of targets against. That equates to 15.7 total snaps for every target, which is miles ahead of the second-most amount of snaps per target.
Here are some more examples from some of the league's top (and not-so-top) corners:
Richard Sherman: 15.7
Darrelle Revis: 13.7
Vontae Davis: 11.3
Chris Harris: 11.3
Sean Smith: 12.6
Desmond Trufant: 11.9
Aqib Talib: 9.8
Darius Slay: 10.5
Rashean Mathis: 11.9
Cary Williams: 12.1
Stephon Gilmore: 12.6
And here are the guys that aren't nearly as good as Sherman, but came closest to snaps per target:
Tarrell Brown: 14.9
Demetrius McCray: 14.6
Meanwhile, Maxwell was targeted once every 10.1 snaps and on those passes he allowed a rating of 77.9. But not every snap is a coverage snap, and the Seahawks were actually passed on less than any team in the NFL this season, so the numbers must be skewing even harder in Sherman's favor, camouflaging his true weakness, right?
NEIN NEIN NEIN NEIN NEIN NEIN NEIN!
Sherman has played 628 coverage snaps this season and again, was targeted 72 times. That is 8.7 cover snaps/target, highest in the NFL. Second-highest is Revis at 8.1 and the vast majority of corners are under 7. Sherman has 18.5 cover snaps/reception allowed, highest in the NFL. Revis is next at 15.9, and all but 11 other corners are under 12.
What this doesn't take into account is that Sherman has also intercepted six passes, including the postseason, which is the most in the NFL among corners. "But you can't count those extra games! No fair!" Okay but on a per-coverage snap basis, his 104.6 cover snaps per interception is still the best, and there's still no more valuable play for a corner than taking the ball away from the other team.
In fact, since entering the NFL in 2011, despite not becoming a starter until game seven, Sherman has 24 interceptions. That's not just the most in the league over the last four years, it's the most by a shitload. How many more picks does Sherman have over any other player?
NINE NINE NINE NINE NINE NINE NINE!
The second-most is 15 and again, Sherman was the least-targeted cornerback this season. He was also the least-targeted cornerback last season.
When people talk about Revis's coverage, they say that he doesn't get as many interceptions (he has nine of them since 2011, though he missed 14 games in 2012) because he's never targeted. But Sherman is targeted less than Revis. Since 2011, Revis has intercepted nine of 235 targets, or 3.8%. Sherman has intercepted 24 of 292 targets, or 8.2%.
"What if I told you that a cornerback intercepted one of every 12 passes thrown in his direction over the first four years of his career? 30 for 30: The Rich Get Richard"
What is perhaps most interesting about the "Sherman avoids great receivers" narrative, is that Sherman literally does not avoid anyone. His job is to cover one side of the field and will take on which ever receiver you place there. It could be Antonio Brown or Antonio Banderas and he'll cover him. For four years he's been doing this. He'll call out A.J. Green as a rookie, and then cover him. He'll call out Calvin Johnson, and then cover him.
After allowing a passer rating against of 57.3 in 2011, they called it a fluke.
After allowing a passer rating against of 41.1 in 2012, voters kept him out of the Pro Bowl.
After allowing a passer rating against of 36.2 in 2013, fans said he holds on every play and the NFL "cracked down" on defensive holding.
Now in 2014, after allowing a passer rating of 48.4 and being penalized three times (only once for holding), they call him overrated. Why? Not because he avoids top receivers, but because top receivers avoid him.
Yeah, that makes sense.