PHOENIX -- When a reporter tried to rekindle the Richard Sherman vs. Darrelle Revis debate earlier this week by asking Sherman if he's the best in the game, the Seahawks' cornerback scoffed at the "preschool question" and admonished him to "improve his line of questioning" instead of trying to incite controversy. This may be the first time that superlatives and Sherman haven't agreed, but his point was salient: In a media landscape where clicks are everything and hot takes are the new norm, why can't we just sit back and appreciate both Revis and Sherman for how remarkably consistent they've played this season?
In many ways, comparing Revis to Sherman is like comparing apples to oranges anyway.
Sherman's primarily a press-trail corner, using his punch and physicality to re-route and mirror at the line of scrimmage, keeping himself between the receiver and the quarterback. His use of leverage -- and uncanny ability to "feel" a receiver even when his head is turned to find the ball, more often than not forces opposing signal callers to make a very difficult throw over Sherman, or make no throw at all. Sherman is a perfect fit for the Seahawks' cover-3/cover-1 defense, where he can use his length, understanding of route concepts and quick-twitch start-stop to take away nearly all routes. The numbers over his career don't lie.
Meanwhile, Revis' numbers don't lie either. He's a different breed of player though, fundamentally perfect at almost all times in his footwork and eye work, relying less on physicality and more on technique. He mixes press and off coverage and is a master at understanding route combinations and what opposing quarterbacks are trying to do. It
As Jim Leonard recollected recently, "We're in formation, the ball is snapped and he's running the route before the receiver does. I'd watch him sometimes and think, 'He's guessing,' but he's never wrong."
Except he's not guessing. It's based on film work, learning tendencies, learning patterns, and specific tells based on formations and splits.
"It's like you know what you're doing," he said, "but it processes through your head, it's a matter of seconds, and then you have to react to what you see. Whether if it's a formation, the way a receiver is running a route, stuff plays over and over again. With the elite, the best guys in the league -- I'm sure stuff plays back in Tom (Brady)'s head about maybe a 2004 game. It's just repeat it. You see it, and you're like, 'Oh I know this. I know that formation. I know what they're gonna run.' You kind of just go off your experience and what you absorb watching film."
That rapid memory recall -- whatever the technical term might be -- is simultaneously what makes a great Jeopardy! contestant or a great cornerback. Well, athleticism helps of course, but the NFL is full of athletes. For Revis, it's film study and a commitment to technique.
"I'm predicated all on technique," Revis admitted. "That's what gets me by. I'm not fast. I don't run a 4.1. I just work on technique. That's what keeps me around."
Former teammate Antonio Cromartie agreed. "He's a guy that's a big-time technician," he said. "He's not a fast guy, but a guy that relies heavily on his technique. ... He came in and practiced the right way, always attacked the ball, always tried to do everything right. And it transferred over to the game. ... Film don't lie. And that's his biggest thing. He never wanted to put something on film that made him ashamed of what kind of person he was."
When I talked to Greg Jennings on Radio Row in the run up to the Super Bowl Friday, the Vikings' receiver admitted if he had a choice, he may take lining up against a more physical, press corner than a technician like Revis.
"I want to know if this guy's physical, if he's going to get his hands on me, or if he's just a technician," he replied when I asked him what he first does when lining up across from a cornerback. "Technicians, in my opinion, are the ones that worry you the most, because you never know what they're going to do. They're so technically sound, to where they may get their hands on you, they may not. But an outright physical guy? You know what he brings to the table."
While Jennings gave a lot of love to the Seahawks' secondary (he said their track record speaks for itself as they've separated themselves as the best group in the NFL), he noted that with a player like Revis, who relies on technique first and foremost, you just never know what you're going to get.
Meanwhile, Sherman is no slouch in the route-recognition area, and he, too, likes to bait quarterbacks into making bad throws. The Seahawks' ball hawk plays the football like a receiver as well, and his interception total -- 24 in four seasons -- is the best in the NFL in that span. Sherman is not the fastest guy in the NFL, but uses his short-area burst to react to double moves then jumps out of the stadium to deflect passes.
Even Sherman, who previously has stoked the fires of controversy with his declarations of being the best, looked to lay down that storyline this week. Which should hopefully allow us to really take in and appreciate how good both players are without making up theoretical arguments about who we'd rather have on our team or how well each player would perform in a different system.
"We play the game two different ways," Sherman said Wednesday. "... everybody is going to make comparisons, but it's two different styles to compare. I play my way, he plays his way, and both of them are effective."