Adams, Sherman and the Match Game
GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Green Bay Packers have a premier receiver in Davante Adams. The San Francisco 49ers have a premier cornerback in Richard Sherman.
For most of his career, Sherman has been locked in at left cornerback. This season, Sherman played 15 snaps on the right side of the defense. That means, should the Packers choose, they can keep Adams away from the All-Pro cornerback in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game.
The Packers are expecting Sherman to line up at left corner, as usual, but they'll be ready should Niners defensive coordinator Robert Saleh choose to match his best against Green Bay's best.
"I’m not sure if they’re going to move Sherm around but we’re for sure going to move Davante around," Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said on Friday.
Talking to 49ers beat reporters on Thursday, Sherman said he hasn’t traveled with an opponent’s No. 1 receiver since he squared off against Atlanta’s Julio Jones while with Seattle in the 2016 playoffs.
While some corners relish the No. 1 vs. No. 1 matchup, Sherman is content to do his job and square off against whoever lines up on his side of the field.
“I don’t care either way,” Sherman said. “I’m trying to win the football game. I’m not trying to win the individual matchup. Individual matchups, I don’t really care about them. At the end of the day, it’s about winning football games. He’s a great player. He’s somebody that we’ve obviously got to account where he is on the field at all times. But in terms of individual matchups, it means nothing to me.”
According to Pro Football Focus and its best guess at coverage responsibilities, Sherman finished second among corners in snaps per reception allowed (19.1) and third in passer rating (46.8). While rarely tested, he led the 49ers with three interceptions and 11 passes defensed. Last week against Minnesota, Kirk Cousins targeted Sherman three times and was rewarded with one short completion and one interception.
The logical approach would be to put Adams on the offense's left and away from Sherman. However, there's a give and take with every offensive and defensive scheme. Keeping Adams away from Sherman might get him away from San Francisco's best cover man but it would mean facing more cover men due to rotated coverages.
“We want to run our stuff,” Rodgers said. “When we’ve been at our best offensively, it’s when we’ve not tried to overly scheme up for a guy. We’re allowing guys to catch balls in rhythm. You might say, well, last game, you schemed some stuff up for Davante. Yeah, we did, but it wasn’t like we were scheming up a certain side of the field or certain corner. It was maybe some routes for ‘Te, where was 1 or 2 or 3 in the progression and it just turned out, based on the coverage looks, that he got the look on that play. I think it’s important that you cannot lean too heavily on one player. This offense over the years doesn’t really do that. We’re going to call our stuff and ‘Te will get opportunities but we’re going to have to have other guys step up and play well.”
Adams is coming off a monster game in last week’s playoff win against Seattle with eight catches for 160 yards and two touchdowns. He is far and away Green Bay’s biggest threat in the passing game. Even while missing four games with turf toe, Adams has been targeted 138 times in his 13 games. After Adams, the two most-targeted Packers players are running back Aaron Jones (68) and tight end Jimmy Graham (64). In other words, Rodgers has thrown more passes to Adams than the next two players combined.
Still, Sherman said he had no intention of approaching Saleh and asking if he could go up against Adams.
“We don’t draw up the defense. I don’t call the defense. Coach tells me what to do; I do it,” Sherman said. “For me to say, ‘Oh, man, I want this guy, I want this guy,’ I don’t really care. Does it help us win the game? Is it going to help the defense? Is it going to help us limit their explosives? Then I’ll do it. If it’s not, if it doesn’t make a difference, if it’s better for me to be on a side, then that’s what I’m going to do. I love it how people are like, ‘Oh, my God, these guys need to do this.’ Well, I’m going to let you know something: You go to your job and tell your boss what you’re going to do and what you’re not going to do and see how long you last.
“If Saleh comes up to me and says, ‘Hey, you follow this guy everywhere he goes,’ then that’s what I’m going to do. If he doesn’t, guess what? I’m going to do what he’s told me to do. That’s how coaching and player relationships work. And it just so happens we have the No. 1 pass defense in the league. Whoa, oh, my God, it’s crazy. It’s crazy that you’re not following anybody but somehow you have the No. 1 pass defense in the league, almost like our strategy works. It’s almost like you’re an idiot for doing it any other way. It’s almost like you’re dumb if you do it another way. It’s almost like people have been saying, ‘Do it this way’ for so long, but they don’t have the No. 1 defense, but whatever, I’m crazy.”
Regardless of whether he’s followed by Sherman, Adams knows he’ll be a focal point of Saleh’s game plan. The goal for any defensive coordinator is to take away the opposition’s best offensive player. That’s Adams. He’ll wear the defensive bull’s-eye. Seattle couldn’t stop Adams and will be watching Sunday’s game from home. If San Francisco can’t stop Adams, it might suffer the same fate.
“I’m not trying to be a superhero,” Adams said. “I go into the game and run my routes, catch the ball and try to do something with it. I’m not going into it freaking out, telling Matt (LaFleur) we need to install this play for me or that play. I let them take care of what they’ve got to do and I’ll go out and try to win my routes. That’s all I can do. The heroics is what can set back teams. We’ve experienced that in the past, where somebody tries to step up and do too much where you just do your job and trust the process, trust that all your teammates are going to handle their 1/11th and we’ll be good.”