Rodgers, Sher­man face off for NFC ti­tle

Antelope Valley Press - - SPORTS - By JOSH DUBOW

SANTA CLARA — Nine years into his ca­reer and a lit­tle more than two years re­moved from a de­bil­i­tat­ing torn Achilles in­jury, Richard Sher­man is still tor­ment­ing quar­ter­backs on a weekly ba­sis.

Just ask Kirk Cousins. Sher­man had his third ca­reer play­off in­ter­cep­tion last week in a vic­tory over Cousins and the Min­nesota Vik­ings that has sent the San Fran­cisco 49ers into the NFC cham­pi­onship game against the Green Bay Pack­ers.

Wait­ing for Sher­man will be the same quar­ter­back he faced the last time he made it to the con­fer­ence ti­tle game five years ago in Aaron Rodgers for the lat­est matchup be­tween two of the NFL’s best who have noth­ing but re­spect for each other.

“He’s a ta­lented player. In my opinion, never lost it,” said Rodgers, who was in­ter­cepted by Sher­man in that loss in the NFC ti­tle game fol­low­ing the 2014 sea­son.

“I mean there was never a time where you are play­ing him where you were think­ing, ‘Oh, I am go­ing to go af­ter this guy.’ I al­ways think you have to be smart about what routes you like to throw on him and un­der­stand that he’s one of the head­i­est play­ers that has ever played that po­si­tion, so you’ve got to be real smart about the types of routes you are lik­ing on that side of the field.”

Sher­man once again looks

like the same player he was dur­ing his hey­day in Seat­tle when he re­peat­edly erased re­ceivers from the game plan by shut­ting down nearly half of the field with his lock-down cover­age.

In his past 13 games, Sher­man has al­lowed only 17 catches for 130 yards with two in­ter­cep­tions and no touch­downs, ac­cord­ing to Pro Foot­ball Fo­cus.

Sher­man also sounds like the same one as well, with his brash talk and ex­treme con­fi­dence that has helped a former fifth-round pick de­velop into one of the top cor­ner­backs to play the game.

“Since I got in the league, ev­ery cat­e­gory that mat­ters to a cor­ner, I’m No. 1 in: Com­ple­tion per­cent­ages, in­ter­cep­tions, touch­downs against, yards, passer rat­ing,” he said. “If that was any other cor­ner, it wouldn’t even be a con­ver­sa­tion. But I just get tired of it. In the play­offs, I played in 13 games now, zero touch­downs given up, three in­ter­cep­tions. Like, show me some­body else do­ing it like that. Then I’ll en­joy the ar­gu­ment. But there isn’t.”

While Sher­man uses any slights, real or per­ceived, as fuel, there’s only praise and re­spect be­tween Sher­man and Rodgers.

The two split their pre­vi­ous eight meet­ings, al­though Sher­man came out ahead in the most im­por­tant one when Seat­tle beat Green Bay in the NFC ti­tle game in Jan­uary 2015.

But any suc­cess Rodgers had didn’t come be­cause he found some weak­ness in Sher­man’s game. In­stead, he ap­proached it as most quar­ter­backs do, throw­ing as few passes to his right as pos­si­ble, know­ing Sher­man will shut down that side of the field.

Rodgers has com­pleted only 13 passes for 138 yards against Sher­man in those eight games, ac­cord­ing to Spor­tRadar, tar­get­ing him just 23 times and throw­ing one in­ter­cep­tion in that NFC cham­pi­onship game.

Much of that pro­duc­tion came in the first meet­ing in 2012 when Rodgers went 4-for5 for 44 yards. He has avoided him al­most com­pletely since then as Sher­man has al­lowed just nine catches for 94 yards in the past seven games.

“I’d say it’s been in­tense,” Sher­man said of those matchups. “It’s been very com­pet­i­tive, I guess, for lack of bet­ter words. We’ve played quite a few times, and the games are al­ways good. There’s rarely any blowouts one way or another. But it’s al­ways a chess match with him, and you’ve got to pick your spots care­fully.”

Associated Press

FRIENDLY NEME­SIS — In this Nov. 24, file photo, San Fran­cisco 49ers cor­ner­back Richard Sher­man, left, greets Green Bay Pack­ers quar­ter­back Aaron Rodgers af­ter a game in Santa Clara. Two of the best at their jobs will meet once again in the NFC cham­pi­onship game when Rodgers must de­cide how much to chal­lenge Sher­man.

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