Richard Sherman’s postgame pressers usually provide a good barometer for how things are going for the San Francisco 49ers. The veteran corner is never bashful about speaking his mind. He’s not one for underserved praise and is keen to add perspective following frustrating losses.
You’ll remember Sherman lamenting the “Day 1 mistakes” made by the 49ers defense in back-to-back defeats against the Arizona Cardinals and Green Bay Packers in Weeks 5 and 6. Busted coverages led to monster plays to open each game. Cardinals receiver Christian Kirk scored a 75-yard touchdown on Arizona’s first play from scrimmage thanks to a bust. A similar miscue led to a 54-yard catch by Jimmy Graham on the Packers first play the very next week.
Those elementary mistakes were maddening, sure, but Sherman knew that they were things that could (and should) be easily fixed. That’s part of the reason why San Francisco’s back-to-back wins against the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks have been so satisfying. There’s an overwhelming feeling that nothing came free in either game and that the opposing offense had to earn their points and explosive plays. That alone shows a marked improvement from the young 49ers defense.
“That’s what this scheme is built on,” Sherman said. “It’s about guys up front putting pressure on the quarterback and guys on the back end limiting explosives. The plays come because (offenses) get bored. Guys get tired of taking a 5-yard check down or a 2-yard gain, and they force the ball deep downfield.”
Sunday’s win against Seattle was particularly fulfilling. It goes without saying that it felt good for Sherman to beat his old team. But beyond that, it’s the growth in his youthful counterparts that has Sherman feeling extra optimistic about how far the defense has come.
“It means a ton (to win),” Sherman said postgame. “It means more that the guys showed up the way they did. Obviously it means a lot beating Seattle for me, but it’s the way guys showed up and kept battling throughout the game.”
The 49ers had several first- and second-year players step up big in the team’s 26-23 overtime win over Seattle. The defense as a whole posted three consecutive stops (two in regulation, one in overtime) to help San Francisco claim its fourth win of the season.
Sherman went name-by-name when doling out credit for Sunday’s victory, beginning with Nick Mullens. The second-year quarterback completed 20-of-29 passes for 275 yards and one touchdown. He’s now thrown for 689 yards against the Seahawks in 2018, the most ever allowed by Seattle to any quarterback in a single season.
“He’s stepped up week in and week out. He’s shown he can play in this league. I just hope we can keep him,” Sherman said. “I’d say he’s playing like a top-half quarterback in this league. He could be a starter for a lot of teams.”
Sherman went on to praise Marcell Harris’ growth over the course of his first three career starts. Harris missed three tackles in his NFL debut in Seattle but has since rebounded nicely, settling in at strong safety in place of the injured Jaquiski Tartt.
The corner then moved to Tarvarius Moore. San Francisco’s third-round pick saw his first extended playing time at corner after Ahkello Witherspoon went down with a knee injury in the first quarter against Seattle. Moore, who had previously only practiced at left corner (Sherman’s spot), was thrust into action at right corner. He got beat by Doug Baldwin on Seattle’s first touchdown but was solid overall. Moore defended back-to-back passes on the Seahawks final drive of regulation where Russell Wilson looked to exploit the rookie. He finished the game with seven tackles.
“I think T. Moore gets a lot of credit for what he did,” Sherman said. “He came in and stepped up to the moment in a big way. I think he gave up one catch. He forced an incompletion on third down. He tackled well. He shot his gun. A lot of times guys get out there and play hesitant – scared to mess up or make a mistake. He didn’t play like that. He went out there and played like he practiced, and I’m incredibly proud of him.”
Sherman was keen to name drop embattled defensive linemen Solomon Thomas and Arik Armstead. The pair of former first-round picks have had their share of hardships over the early parts of their respective NFL careers. For Thomas, it’s been a lack of production expected out of a third-overall pick. Armstead’s bugaboo has been the inability to stay healthy.
But Thomas has flashed more consistently of late and drew two crucial offensive holding calls against the Seahawks. Armstead has enjoyed a clean bill of health in 2018 and has developed into one of the better interior run stoppers in the NFL. Sherman didn’t mince words in his absolute support of both players.
“Solly gets a lot of criticism, and I don’t think it’s necessarily warranted,” Sherman said. “Today he was a menace. He was a monster. He stopped a ton of those plays, and I don’t think he’ll get enough credit for what he was able to do.
“Arik Armstead never gets enough credit for the amount of pressure that he puts on people. He’s probably caused eight or nine sacks (this season) just from his pressure.”
D.J. Reed, D.J. Jones and a few others were also mentioned by name for their contributions in the overtime victory in Week 15. Sherman’s overarching sentiment circled back to young players learning what it takes to win in the NFL. There are five games easily pinpointed as missed opportunities this season where the 49ers failed to close out the game – the Arizona Cardinals (twice), Green Bay Packers, New York Giants and Los Angeles Chargers.
That’s all to say that Sunday’s grind-it-out win against the likely playoff-bound Seahawks offered a tangible step in the right direction. The young 49ers roster may be finding its way with two games remaining in 2018.
“It was cool to see us get into an overtime game against a good team, and guys continue to show up, play disciplined and execute,” Sherman said. “Finishing can be learned, and I think guys learned how to finish.”