By John Boyle Herald Writer
RENTON — An argument could be made that the Seahawks have the best cornerback tandem in the NFL in Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner.
It would be just as easy to argue that no team possesses a better one-two punch at receiver than the Atlanta Falcons, whose dual threat of Julio Jones and Roddy White has led to many sleepless nights for defensive coordinators.
In other words, this should be really fun to watch on Sunday.
Football, perhaps more than any sport, can come down to a chess match between coaches; to one team exploiting another team’s weakness; to neutralizing another team’s strength. But sometimes, football at its best is a one-on-one battle where the outcome of a play, or maybe even a game, comes down to which player does his job better at a given moment.
And if ever there was potential for some exciting mano-a-mano matchups, it would be in Sunday’s playoff matchup between Atlanta and Seattle when two of the NFL’s biggest, most-physical corners line up across from two of the league’s most productive receivers, who aren’t exactly known for shying away from physical play.
“What a matchup this week is, wow,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “They’ve got great receivers. Roddy and Julio. Those guys are fantastic players. You’re going to see the biggest, longest looking guys going one-on-one out there. It’s going to be really a great matchup to watch, and our guys are going to try and play really good football — just like we always do — and not change anything. They’re so good, so it’s going to be an interesting aspect of this game.”
Heading into the 2011 draft, Atlanta already had White, who was coming off of an All-Pro season after leading the NFL in receptions and receiving yards in 2010. So what did the Falcons do in the draft? They made a bold move, trading up to pick Jones with the No. 6 pick, hoping he would be the piece to the puzzle that put them over the top.
And Atlanta’s passing game has undoubtedly been more explosive with White and Jones both making plays. The Falcons were sixth in the NFL this season in passing yards and fifth in passing touchdowns while White and Jones combined for 2,549 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns. However, they’ll be in for a new challenge this week when they face Browner and Sherman.
“They’re as big and as physical as there are in the league, that’s for sure,” Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said on a conference call. “… (Sherman) is a big, physical guy. Browner, on the other end, is obviously a big, physical guy, as well. They’re good.”
For cornerbacks, the actual assignments from week to week don’t change much. Sherman and Browner will line up on their side of the field and cover whoever is out there. But that doesn’t mean Seattle’s cornerback duo isn’t looking forward to the challenge of facing Atlanta’s top receivers.
“It’s the same as it is every week,” said Sherman, who led the league in passes defensed and was second with eight interceptions. “Stepping and kicking, playing disciplined, staying on top — it’s the same as our principles always are, nothing changes. It’s just a more fun matchup for us.”
“It’s going to be a fun game. That’s what we look forward to. They present a lot of challenges, they have a lot of weapons, and we look forward to those kind of challenges.”
Both Sherman and Browner called White and Jones the best receiving tandem in the league.
“They’re two of the best out there, as individuals,” Sherman said. “For a tandem, they’re probably the top tandem out there. It’s going to be a fun matchup for us. It’s fun to play against good players. Good against good is always the best kind of game.”
Ultimately however, stopping the Falcons offense isn’t as easy as stopping two receivers. If Browner and Sherman are able to blanket White and Jones, Ryan can still look for tight end Tony Gonzalez, who continues to defy time and had 93 catches this season. Or Ryan can go to slot receiver Harry Douglas, who could present matchup issues for Seattle, or explosive running back Jacquizz Rodgers out of the backfield.
“They’re pretty good at doing what they do,” cornerback Marcus Trufant said. “To play defense against them, you’ve got to be able to cover the whole field. They make it tough on a defense. Everybody’s got to be on the same page and everybody’s got to be aware at all times.”
So yes, there are chess games to be played, mismatches to set up, but for must-see TV Sunday, look to the edges where two of the league’s best corners try to shut down two of its best receivers.
RB Marshawn Lynch (foot), S Jeron Johnson (hamstring) and CB Byron Maxwell (hamstring) didn’t practice for the second straight day. None were mentioned by Carroll when he was asked about injuries on Wednesday, so the likelihood is that none of the injuries are serious, but more will be known when Carroll addresses the media again Friday.
Herald Writer John Boyle: email@example.com.