Without Sherman, 49ers’ Secondary Is a Much Weaker Unit

Veteran cornerback was missed in loss to the Falcons but expects to play Saturday night against the Rams

Richard Sherman of the San Francisco 49ers looks on from the sideline.
Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

Sometimes, a player’s absence can have ripple effects.

That was the case this past Sunday when the 49ers didn’t have veteran cornerback Richard Sherman. Not only did San Francisco not have its best cover defensive back – often assigned to the opponent’s best wide receiver – but his absence weakened the pass defense as a whole.

Without Sherman on the field – he was out with a hamstring injury – Falcons wideout Julio Jones had 13 catches for 134 yards and two touchdowns. Jones is a bonafide star, so he’s bound to make plays no matter who is guarding him. Yet there’s no doubt Sherman could have limited Jones’ impact.

In addition, without Sherman – a smart, experienced leader in the secondary who makes others around him better – Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan was able to pick on a generally weaker pass coverage.

As the analytic website Pro Football Focus noted after Sunday’s game: “Sometimes a player’s stock can rise throughout an absence, and that was the case for Richard Sherman today. Without him, the defensive backfield couldn’t quite make the plays on a consistent basis when it mattered most, with Ahkello Witherspoon having a particularly bad day.”

Sherman could have played against the Falcons, but the 49ers coaching staff believed it was more prudent to allow him another week to heal.

Sherman is expected to return to play Saturday night, when the 11-3 49ers play host to the 8-6 Rams. Kickoff is set for 5:15 p.m.

Sherman, who has had one of his best seasons (according to the grading by Pro Football Focus), has played 13 games, has 11 passes defensed, three interceptions and has been in on 53 tackles.

“I could play in this game if we had to have it,” Sherman told Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle before the Falcons game. “Kyle (Shanahan) and them are more cautious than I am.”

With the loss to Atlanta, the Niners definitely need wins in their final two regular-season games, against the Rams and Seahawks, to secure the NFC West title and a possible top seed in the NFC playoffs.

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