We’ve said a few times this season that, in the absence of Darrelle Revis, Seattle’s Richard Sherman was the one player stepping up to claim the mantle as the league’s toughest shutdown corner. Judging by twitter, it seems Sherman agrees.
Late last night or early this morning depending on your time zone, Sherman tweeted that many things can lie, but numbers don’t, and posted a statistical comparison between himself and Revis. Of course, those numbers for corners don’t even scratch the surface of the data, but we can.
PFF goes way deeper, so I decided to run some numbers and come up with a proper statistical comparison between the two players. We’re going to stick to Sherman’s 2012 season. His rookie year was impressive, but he didn’t play the full season and it wasn’t a patch on his most recent year.
For Revis we’re going to discount the 2010 season in which he was clearly hampered with injury, and have created a three-year average from his most recent complete seasons of play (2008, 2009, and 2011) to put up against Sherman.
What Do The PFF Grades Show?
Well perhaps the most interesting thing is that their average PFF grades are almost the same. Sherman finished last year with a +25.1 overall grade and +26.4 in coverage. Revis’ three-year average is +26.3 and +22.4. Those numbers might seem abstract, but they come from a play-by-play analysis of both players on every snap of the game, giving them credit for impressive plays in the biggest situations and assigning blame when they blow plays regardless of the outcome of those plays. In short, those numbers are the most comprehensive analysis you will find of their play, and they stack up extremely closely.
There are things that even those numbers don’t account for, though. Sherman plays almost exclusively left cornerback in the Seahawks’ defense, while Revis will track No. 1 receivers across the field and into the slot. Sherman has only done that sparingly this season, and heavily on only one occasion — against, Stevie Johnson, Revis’ biggest test. There is no doubt that Revis is asked to do more, drawing an opponent’s toughest receiver on almost every play, while Sherman has to rely on them being lined up to the open side of the formation or in a two-receiver set to the left slot.
That being said, Sherman’s role isn’t warping his numbers the way Nnamdi Asomugha’s role used to distort his in Oakland. Like Sherman, Asomugha rarely tracked receivers, but unlike him, he would play the right cornerback spot almost exclusively and there was nobody else in that Oakland secondary that teams respected, so they could simply ignore him and take him out of the game. Sherman plays on the opposite side, the side of the field that quarterbacks target more frequently as right-handers, and he has a formidable secondary to back him up and ensure that there is no easy path to completions. Consequently, his target numbers remain healthy, certainly as compared to Asomugha’s in Oakland.
From 2008-10 the Oakland corner averaged 29 targets per season hidden away on the blindside. He was thrown at less than twice per game for three years. Sherman was thrown at 87 times in 2012 and Revis has averaged over 93 targets in his seasons. Though their roles are notably different, both players have seen their fair share of targets and both have spent the majority of their time locked-up in man coverage. We can evaluate their coverage in the way we could never adequately do for Asomugha in Oakland.
How Did They Perform When Targeted?
Sherman allowed 41 catches last year, or 47.1 percent of balls thrown his way, while Revis hasn’t allowed more than 49 in any season we have looked at, averaging 41.7 percent of targets to be completed in that three-year span. The edge goes to Revis, despite playing the slot frequently where receptions are often easier to come by.
If we look at yardage, again Revis has the edge, allowing an average of 481 receiving yards compared to the 634 Sherman gave up last year. Sherman allowed 1.07 receiving yards for every snap he was in coverage, while Revis’ mark is 0.8. That is a difference of a little more than 25 percent between the two, but in this instance working from the slot actually benefits Revis’ numbers slightly. Slot receivers tend to give up more receptions, but for smaller yardage than their boundary counterparts, so the snaps where Revis is following his man inside drive up his reception numbers but drive down his average.
When we look at how many yards after the catch were allowed, the advantage swings back in favor of Sherman. He gave up only 135 yards after the catch compared to the 155.3 yards that Revis averaged. This suggests that, by and large, Sherman was in tight attendance even when he was beaten for catches, allowing little before making the stop on the play, though both marks are impressive.
What Do The “Numbers” Show?
Lastly we come to the more tangible corner numbers. The big three: touchdowns allowed, interceptions, and passes defensed. Revis has only given up eight touchdowns over the past five seasons, and never more than three in a year. The two players are once again tough to separate in this category, with Sherman giving up just three in 2011. Sherman was able to pick off more passes last season than Revis has managed in any of his, but the number of passes he knocked down in addition to those picks matches the Revis average almost exactly. Sherman might have marginally better ball skills than Revis does, or rather is looking to make the interception more than Revis, who appears to target breaking up the pass more often than he does picking it off from watching the tape.
Opposing QBs had a passer rating of just 41.1 when targeting Sherman last season, and in targeting Revis over his last three healthy seasons they had a rating of 44.6, both incredibly good marks in a league where triple-digits have become the benchmark for good quarterback play, and the sign of some truly elite coverage.
The Bottom Line
Although Sherman may not be asked to do exactly what Revis does, his 2012 season does compare closely to what the Jets have been able to expect from their stud over the past few seasons. However — and this is a significant however — Sherman’s numbers don’t come close to the almost unfathomable season that Revis put together in 2009. That season drags up his average from a ‘good’ sophomore season and is comfortably better than any other single season looked at across the board, despite being his most heavily-targeted year. That year teams completed just 36.9 percent of the balls they threw Revis’ way, and passers had a rating of only 32.3 when they tried it.
This year saw Sherman make this a legitimate argument, but he still has a way to go if he is to reach the peaks that Revis has in his NFL career.
Richard Sherman isn’t quite the new Darrelle Revis, but he might be the closest thing we’ve seen. What will 2013 bring?
Revis 3-year Average
|Penalties||5||3.0||DR - 2|
|MTs||6||4.0||DR - 2|
|Rec||41||41.7||RS - 0.7|
|% Ct||47.1||44.6||DR - 2.5|
|Yards||634||481.0||DR - 153|
|Avg||15.5||11.5||DR - 4|
|YAC||135||155.3||RS - 20.3|
|Lg||56||47.7||DR - 8.3|
|TD||2||1.7||DR - 0.3|
|INT||8||5.0||RS + 3|
|QB Rating||41.1||44.6||RS - 3.5|
Follow Sam on Twitter: @PFF_Sam