Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman has only been in the NFL for three years, but in that time he's transformed himself into one of the most notable and recognizable players in the league. Not just with his play -- which includes a 2013 Pro Bowl nod and repeat appearances as a first-team All-Pro -- but also because of what he does off of the field. A soundbite waiting to happen, Sherman has never acted like a fifth-round pick or a player who didn't belong on the same level as any other player in the league, and that includes elite quarterback Drew Brees.
Six weeks after containing Brees to one of the worst games of his career, the two meet again this Saturday in Seattle, with the winner headed to the NFC Championship Game. When asked what the key was to holding Brees to 147 passing yards (his lowest total in seven years) and beating the New Orleans Saints 34-7 (their second-worst defeat since Brees and head coach Sean Payton came to New Orleans), Sherman did something entirely unexpected.
"Well, I couldn't tell you. I couldn't tell you, truthfully," Sherman said, per The Advocate's Gary Estwick. "We don't run the most complex scheme. We don't do anything too exotic. I don't really have the answer to that."
Sherman has shown nothing but the utmost respect for Brees, something that most fans would find hard to believe, but the truth is that Sherman's aim has never been to embellish or exaggerate his feelings for effect so much as he has absolutely no filter. He recently wrote that Brees was the second-smartest quarterback in the NFL after Peyton Manning, saying that he makes "incredible adjustments during the game" but was also quick to point out that "he's never done that to us."
Of course, Sherman has only faced Brees once in his career, in that Monday night game in Seattle that featured the top two teams in the NFC at that time. The loss sent the Saints reeling, as they dropped two of their next three games to lose the NFC South lead to the Carolina Panthers and sent them to Philadelphia last week where they beat the Eagles, 26-24, but now they're only one win away from making that loss a distant memory.
Sherman would have no memory of the last time Brees and the Saints played a playoff game in Seattle, other than by watching it on television as he was preparing for the NFL Draft at the time, but most will probably bring up Marshawn Lynch and the 7-9 Seahawks upsetting New Orleans, 41-36. Now it's the Saints that are trying to pull off the upset, but the brash Sherman clearly believes that Seattle is more than ready for Brees because he'd argue that no secondary prepares as much as the Seahawks do.
"We're really a very disciplined, film-watching football team. I think when you work that hard, when you study that hard, when you're not out partying and you're spending that time watching film, and getting ready for your opponents, it benefits you."
But some would say that Sherman doesn't just study quarterbacks, he taunts them.
In a game last October against the New England Patriots, Sherman said that Tom Brady told him that he'd "see him after the game" when the Pats were up as much as 23-10 in the fourth quarter. Sherman then sought Brady out (and Brady was having none of it) after the 24-23 Seahawks win, forever branding himself with a "U MAD BRO?" reputation.
Earlier this season, Sherman called Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Roddy White "an easy matchup," and though White was held to just one catch for 20 yards, it would be fair to point out that White was returning from injury.
Sherman even took his trash talk off of the football field, famously telling ESPN analyst Skip Bayless that "I'm better at life than you," showing that you don't even have to play football to find yourself caught up in the cornerback's wake. Though some, like former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Michael Irvin, say that it's hard to get upset with a trash-talking player like Sherman when he does nearly everything in his power to back it up on the field.
"The great corners I went up against did not talk," he tells USA TODAY Sports. "They were so focused on the task at hand. I like Richard Sherman. I like the bravado. I like the confidence. Anybody that says what he's planning on doing and then goes out and accomplishes it; it messes with your head. It really does.
"You think, that is a man who has the ability to impose his will on you, and that's what Sherman is. And he's confident about it. I like that about him."
Sherman recorded eight interceptions for the second year in a row, picking off two more than any other player in the NFL this season. Pro Football Focus, a site that tracks every NFL play, said that Sherman was targeted 58 times by opposing quarterbacks, and held them to an NFL-low 47.3 pass rating. They completed just 30 of those targets for 421 yards and two touchdowns.
Brees was not one of those quarterbacks to throw a touchdown against Sherman.
In their Week 13 matchup, Brees had just 3.87 yards per attempt, the third-lowest such mark of his career, and he was a very un-Brees-like 0-for-8 on targets over 15 yards. Sherman may not know exactly what it was about the way they played that threw the eight-time Pro Bowler off his game that night, but you can be certain that it's on the forefront of both of their minds. For one, to try and repeat it, and for the other, to make up for it.
Will Sherman be talking some more after Saturday, or will Brees find a way to shut him up?