Breaking down Richard Sherman's essential traits to Seahawks' defense

Richard Sherman has been integral to the foundation of the Seattle Seahawks’ defense, turning the vaunted unit into one of the best of all time.

Sherman makes a strong case to be considered as the NFL’s best cornerback since entering the league in 2011, steering the team to its first Super Bowl victory in 2013, while the Seahawks led the NFL in scoring defense for four consecutive seasons (2012-15).

Every star holds an expiry date, however, and Sherman’s been subject to trade speculation, while head coach Pete Carroll has done little to quell the rumors.

Here are the three traits of Sherman’s game that the Seahawks will miss the most in the event they opt to trade the four-time Pro Bowler.

Locking down one side of the field

One of the defining traits of Sherman’s career is that he seldom ventures from the left side of the field, immobilizing nearly every opponent that tries him. Sherman’s critics noted that he won’t necessarily shadow the opposition’s best receiver, but he remains intent on minimizing the opponent’s window of opportunity.

During his tenure with the Seahawks, Sherman’s ability to isolate whoever lines up against him has allowed his team to perpetually install their Cover 3 base defense with few amendments year after year. Sherman’s presence also dictates his teammates’ responsibilities, with the Seahawks’ second cornerback knowing full well that he will be tested, while the 29-year-old waits patiently, looking for an opportunity to make a game-changing play.

If Sherman is traded before the 2017 season, the Seahawks may have to run a variety of schemes, as opposed to settling into their Cover 3 base, no longer sporting a cornerback that shortens the dimensions of the field. Sherman held quarterbacks to a 68.4 passer rating allowed in 2016, according to Pro Football Focus, and remains a formidable, lockdown threat that the Seahawks ought not to take for granted.

Continuity with Thomas

(Photo courtesy: Getty Images)

Seattle can operate a rather simplistic base defense in large part due to the continuity in the team’s secondary, with particular focus on Sherman’s relationship with star safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor. The trio all rose to prominence together and their communication, no matter how subtle, is imperative to the team’s success.

The subtle machinations of the secondary’s continuity is on full display pre-snap, with Sherman and Thomas working in tandem to dictate the opponent’s play beforehand. Sherman and Thomas work in sync, with the latter working as an innate safety valve in the event the cornerback gets beat off the line of scrimmage.

Sherman and Thomas have perfected one play in particular, making it extremely difficult to throw deep against the “Legion of Boom.” While the ball hangs in the air, Sherman will subtly motion Thomas to speed towards his side of the field. With assistance on its way, Sherman will tip the ball out of mid-air, batting it away from the opposing wide receiver and Thomas bursts in at full flight to record an interception. Throwing deep passes anywhere in Sherman’s vicinity is a perilous proposition, in large part due to his long-standing relationship with Thomas.

An outstanding playmaker

Sherman may not boast elite straight-line speed, but simply, he remains one of the NFL’s marquee defensive playmakers, ahead of his seventh season. With 30 career interceptions, Sherman’s reputation precedes itself and it’s highly unlikely the team will easily replace a player of his caliber.

Since Sherman rarely ventures to the right side of the field, he’s often rendered biding his time for a turnover opportunity to arise. Like Darrelle Revis before him, targeting Sherman is usually a recipe for disaster, glowing at the chance to make a game-changing play.

Sherman’s awareness and recovery speed is on full display in the above video, recording a vital interception in the first quarter of the 2014 NFC Championship Game. Packers wide receiver Davante Adams seemingly beat Sherman downfield and Aaron Rodgers sensed an opportunity for an early lead. However, Sherman disrupts the route, leaping into the picture while the ball begins its downward trajectory, sealing the interception. It’s a play few cornerbacks in the league could make, one of countless examples of Sherman’s playmaking ability.

If the Seahawks elect to trade Sherman, he’ll almost certainly be lauded for his contribution to the team over the past six seasons. Be careful what you wish for, however, as Sherman’s multifaceted game is integral to the Seahawks’ daunting defense.