It’s not surprising Richard Sherman is highly motivated to play the Seattle Seahawks.
What’s a little unexpected is the reason.
Sherman, who is known for carrying a boulder on his shoulder throughout his entire career, isn’t entering this week with fire and brimstone for the team that released him while he was recovering from an Achilles tear in 2018.
He isn’t thinking about the Seahawks receivers the same he famously did about former 49er Michael Crabtree, when Seattle and 49ers formed the NFL’s best rivalry earlier this decade. Don’t expect him to tell a sideline reporter about how “sorry” D.J. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett are — or give a choking gesture toward Pete Carroll and the opposing sideline if the 49ers win.
“It’s another game,” Sherman said, calmly, this week. “It’s a division game. It’s definitely more meaningful in that respect. Because a division game, you got a win if you make the playoffs and if you want to have a home game, you want to win your division. So it’s definitely meaningful in that respect. But, to me, that’s about it.”
Sherman was in a different mode ahead of the unbeaten 49ers’ biggest game of the year.
He wasn’t telling the doubters to continue questioning San Francisco’s top-ranked defense as he did after beating the Rams last month. His comments about quarterback Russell Wilson didn’t garner any headlines like the ones generated when ESPN reported before the 2017 season Sherman believed Wilson received preferential treatment from the coaching staff while the defense was the backbone of those Super Bowl teams.
“He’s making great throws. His receivers are catching them,” Sherman said. “Him and Lockett have a great connection. They’re doing a hell of a job. They’ve been efficient. They’ve won some close games. They’ve battled through and he’s been a big reason.”
Wislon, Sherman keep drama down
Wilson is also playing nice, which is to be expected.
“I know not to go over there too much,” Wilson told Seattle reporters this week. “He’s as good as it gets over there. Got a lot of respect for Sherman and how he plays the game.”
No, this isn’t a week for drama. At least not for Sherman toward his old team — and not for the Seahawks toward the All-Pro cornerback.
Instead, Sherman is using the last game against the Arizona Cardinals as fuel.
San Francisco’s defense on Halloween nearly surrendered the lead against the Cardinals and upstart quarterback Kyler Murray, who had the best game of his rookie season against the 49ers No. 1-ranked pass defense. The 357 yards were the most Sherman’s defense allowed all season.
Eighty-eight yards came on a fourth-quarter touchdown in which Sherman and safety Jimmie Ward took poor angles, allowing rookie Andy Isabella to scream through the secondary to a touchdown.
“The 90-yard play is the one that just made me so darn upset because it’s just a combination of things that happened and that’s the one that just makes everything look like it was a really bad day,” defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said. “Were we our best? Absolutely not. Can we be a lot better? Absolutely.”
Sherman after the game was the most upset he’s been since coming to the 49ers, even as the team improved to 8-0. He called the game a “humbling” experience, perhaps one the team needed after going unbeaten with relative ease during the first seven games.
Sherman was asked this week, upon reflection, if those thoughts were about motivating the team to maintain its edge before playing the 7-2 Seahawks or if he was genuinely concerned about the play of the defense against the Cardinals.
“There’s some of that,” Sherman said. “But that was just legitimately not up to our standard of football. At the end of the day, I think just about everybody who was on our defense would say it. There’s a difference between you getting beat while executing, and you not executing so you’re getting beat. And that was the problem in that game.”
Added Kyle Shanahan: “I think that’s who Sherm is. Sherm is extremely competitive. Usually when he’s disappointed in something, you’re going to feel it and he’ll tell you about it too. He was disappointed in a few things and I think he had every right to be. I think everyone else was also, but you hear it more from him. I love it. Whether you’re a guy who tells everyone and holds people accountable or you do it by example, as long as you’re doing it at the right time and you’re keeping it real and your intentions are right then I really respect it.”
Wilson leads tough Seahawks offense
Meanwhile, Wilson is the leading MVP candidate during the first half of the season. He’s led the Seahawks’ to the league’s fourth-ranked offense. The team is 6-1 in one-score games thanks largely to Wilson’s heroics while the once-vaunted defense is nothing like the “Legion of Boom.”
Opponents are scoring 25.6 points a game against the Seahawks, which ranks 22nd. Sherman’s presence is missed in the secondary as Seattle is allowing 278 yards through the air to rank 28th. The once-imposing pass rush has just 15 sacks, tied for just the 15th most in the league.
Which has meant the Seahawks have been forced to rely more on Wilson this season than perhaps any other. Which is also why he’s getting mentioned in the narrative-driven MVP award.
That means Sherman and the rest of San Francisco’s secondary will face their toughest task of the year. The 49ers will rely on Sherman’s institutional knowledge of the Seahawks and put his natural leadership skills to good use.
“No matter the situation,” Saleh said of Sherman, “whether he’s at his ultimate high, whether he gets angry, whatever it is, he’s able to bring himself to a level where he’s always trying to teach, trying to get better, working with players, working with coaches, just all of us all together.
“He’s really taken that step from just being the wisest guy in the room, just being the oldest and understanding all the different things that have happened, not only from a schematic standpoint, but helping these guys learn and understand the pro game and how to be a pro and how to practice and approach that. You can’t put a price on what he’s meant to this defense.”