As two of the best players at their position in their generation, San Francisco cornerback Richard Sherman and Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers have formed a relationship built on deep respect.
They have nothing but praise for each other’s games and will exchange texts after one of them does something special. With all that they have accomplished that can happen often.
“Just checking if he has a great game or I see something on tape where he’s in his bag and doing something crazy like some of the Hail Mary’s that he’s thrown,” Sherman said. “I text him like, ‘Man, that’s crazy. I don’t know what you were thinking right there.’ He’s a good dude.”
Sherman hopes Rodgers doesn’t pull off any of those crazy plays he’s known for on Monday night when the 49ers (1-4) visit the Packers (2-2-1) in the seventh meeting between the two megastars, including one in the postseason.
The two split the previous six meetings when Sherman was in Seattle, although the Seahawks won the most important 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 like 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 nine passes for 90 yards against Sherman in those six games, according to SportRadar, targeting him just 13 times and throwing one interception. Almost half of that production came in the first meeting in 2012 when Rodgers went 4-for-5 for 44 yards. He has avoided him almost completely since then as Sherman has allowed just five catches for 46 yards in the past five games.
“When he’s on the field, you have to be smart throwing the ball his way,” Rodgers said. “That’s just the type of player he is. I mean, he’s a super-intelligent guy, he’s got incredible football instincts and he can still impact the game in a number of different ways.”
Sherman is still striking fear in quarterbacks at age 30 despite coming off major surgery on a ruptured Achilles tendon and nursing a calf injury that sidelined him for one game this season.
Sherman has been targeted just 10 times on 145 pass plays this season, the second-lowest rate in the NFL. Opposing quarterbacks have completed just two of those passes for 28 yards as Sherman has been a rare bright spot for a struggling San Francisco team.
“People aren’t targeting him. That always tells you a lot there about Richard,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “Especially where he is in his career, he diagnosis routes extremely well. I’ve always felt he was so strong at the breaking points of routes and really does a great job of playing toward his length. He’s an excellent player, always has been. I think he looks good.”
Rodgers has also been slowed by an injury at age 34, as he hurt his knee in the first half of the opener against Chicago before returning to lead a memorable comeback.
He has shown more mobility each week and is coming off a 442-yard, three TD performance in a loss at Detroit last week. Rodgers has 10 touchdown passes and just one interception all season and has the highest passer rating (103.5) of any quarterback with at least 1,000 attempts.
“He’s still the best or is tied for the best on the planet,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “He always has been. He’s the man. I know he’s not 100 percent, everyone knows that, but he seems to be a little bit better each week. He’s still the best. Good player.”
One aspect that makes Rodgers even tougher to defend than other top quarterbacks such as Tom Brady or Peyton Manning during his heyday is the ability to scramble. Rodgers is an elite athlete and can extend plays with his feet and then expose defenses downfield with his laser-like arm when the cornerbacks can’t stick with the receivers for that extra time.
Sherman knows that’s one of the hardest things to prepare for against Rodgers and the Packers.
“You’re going to have to run, you’re going to have to cover for a long period of time,” he said. “You’ll have to be ready for the backyard football. He’s a great passer, he can throw the ball anywhere. He can be on his back foot and throw the ball 75 yards.”