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How Richard Sherman only appears out of position

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PHOENIX -- The beauty in Richard Sherman's game, according to one ardent observer, is that there is a layer of complexity and fearlessness in the cornerback's playing style that is seldom appreciated in the way it should be.

When asked to compare Sherman to Sunday's opponent, Darrelle Revis, Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin said that there was no comparison. Revis is one of the league's best cornerbacks, a player who digests information and relays it on the field seamlessly. He makes plays because he is always in the perfect position.

Sherman is well known for baiting quarterbacks. His game is predicated on appearing out of position in order to induce a throw. He knows his natural athleticism and long arms can help him make up the difference when the ball is in the air. In the most simplistic viewpoint, he is a boom-or-bust corner who, for the last four years, has been on one hell of a ride. "He makes the quarterback think he's out of position and then he reaches that long arm in there and swats the ball away like he did in the NFC Championship Game last year," Baldwin said Thursday.

But Kris Richard, Sherman's position coach, knows it's more complicated than that. Sherman's risks, which are based on a tireless study of visual cues and situational opportunism, are actually hedged quite brilliantly.

"In the simplest form, yes. You can attribute what he does to his length, but it really comes down to his intelligence," Richard said. "We have those conversations all the time, and those calculations have to be precise, and he's right more times than he's not. So he's really good. He's really good at doing that."

In a statistical review done by NFL.com, which took a look at the length of each pass completed against Sherman or in his coverage area over the last three seasons -- a record compiled on a game-by-game basis by Pro Football Focus -- it became obvious that his risk taking in the secondary is overblown. Sherman has rewarded the Seahawks' trust in him.

Since 2011, Sherman has surrendered (a loose definition, considering that there were more than a few plays in which he was in such an ideal position that he was close enough to assist another member of the secondary who had already been beat, but ended up getting credited with the catch anyway) 13 chunk plays, or catches that resulted in a gain of more than 30 yards.

In every single one of his four seasons, he has had more interceptions than chunk plays allowed, including an otherworldly 2013 season when he gave up just one such play, a 38-yard touchdown catch by Minnesota's Jarius Wright off a play-action fake. And really, show us a cornerback in football who has not fallen for play action against the Vikings with Adrian Peterson in the backfield.

Sherman cheated up to play the run and Wright was in the midst of a well run double move. These things happen.

It stands alone as one of the few glaring mistakes he made during Seattle's championship run in 2013. This season, he's had just four plays of 30 or more yards allowed but has six interceptions and 11 passes defensed.

It's true that Sunday's Super Bowl might come down to a mistake that Sherman makes. Based on four years of production like this, there is always the possibility that he could suffer the one outlier to a sterling season.

The odds are just against it.

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