Focus on: Covering the fade

Posted Jan 21, 2014

It was only one pass in an NFC Championship game that featured 49, but Richard Sherman tipping away that 49th pass in the end zone against the 49ers has the Seahawks Super Bowl bound.

It was the tipped pass heard ’round the football world.

The San Francisco 49ers had a first down from the Seahawks’ 18-yard line with 30 seconds remaining in Sunday’s NFC Championship game at CenturyLink Field, and the Seahawks holding a 23-17 lead. What’s the call?

A fade route to Michael Crabtree in the corner of the end zone.

With Colin Kaepernick’s pass in the air, All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman leaped, contorted his 6-foot-3 body and tipped it. As the ball seemed to hang for an eternity-and-half, linebacker Malcolm Smith moved into position to catch it for a victory-clinching interception.

Coach Pete Carroll was asked Monday if he’s ever had a cornerback who played the fade better from a press alignment than Sherman.

“Of the guys I’ve had, there’s nobody that’s been better,” said Carroll, who coached for the Buffalo Bills (1984), Minnesota Vikings (1985-89), New York Jets (1990-94), 49ers (1995-98) and New England Patriots (1997-99) in the NFL before coming to the Seahawks in 2010 after a ridiculously successful nine-season run at USC.

“And I’ve had a lot of really cool players.”

One that stood out was Ty Law, a “great hand-eye guy,” as Carroll said of the cornerback who played for him when both were with the Patriots. The rest of Carroll’s off-the-top-of-his-head list included players he watched, but never coached – Michael Haynes, Raymond Clayborn and Everson Walls.

“I always had a tremendous respect for Michael Haynes,” Carroll said of the Hall of Fame corner who played for Patriots (1976-82) and Raiders (1983-89). “He was a guy that I studied a long time ago and thought he had phenomenal hand-eye ability. Because it really comes down to getting your hand where the ball is, and I thought he was phenomenal.

Of Clayborn, a three-time Pro Bowl corner who played for the Patriots (1977-89) and Cleveland Browns (1990-91), Carroll offered, “He was a guy I always loved watching. At one time, he and Michael played together up in New England.”

On Walls, a four-time Pro Bowl selection who led the league in interceptions three times while playing for the Dallas Cowboys (1981-89), Carroll said, “He was a phenomenal hand-eye guy, I thought. I never coached him, but that is what I thought from afar. He was a phenomenal ball-hawk guy.”

Then there’s Sherman, a fifth-round draft choice in 2011 who has blossomed into a two-time All-Pro. He led the NFL with eight interceptions this season, and also has the most picks (20) and passes defensed (60) in the league since 2011.   

“Richard is about as adept as you can get,” Carroll said. “He just has extraordinary length, timing, feel and catch-ability.”