Thursday, January 29, 2015

Prelude To A Title - Part 4: Patriots Should Test Sherman And Thomas Early

Under normal circumstances, Richard Sherman is best left alone.

But these are less than normal circumstances, as the Seattle Seahawks are going into the Super Bowl with their best cover corner on the mend with torn ligaments in his left elbow - so the New England Patriots would be crazy to not go after him early, perhaps bogging him down with the likes of Brandon LaFell or even get him isolated on Rob Gronkowski.

Especially with back shoulder throws along the sideline, bringing his injured wing into play when he has to spin to locate the ball and try to make a play on it - and a crosser or two from either side of the formation should be in the mix as well, perhaps a screen or three to force him to come up and tackle.  A healthy Sherman would take all of that in stride and probably be gone the other way with at least one of them...
Sherman played the balance of the NFC Title game one handed...

...but a wounded Sherman is a different story.

A wounded Richard Sherman is not going to have the reach that he otherwise might enjoy, and in fact may be further inhibited if wearing a brace of some sort - and, of course, he might take an injection or two in the process of preparation on game day that will allow him to play more pain-free - but even then, there is no miracle cure that would allow him to stretch that arm out enough to exhibit his normal Condor-like range.

The Ulnar Collateral Ligament (UCL) is the structure that keeps a normal attachment of the humerus bone (upper arm) and ulna (one of the forearm bones) and is usually seen on athletes that hit the turf hard with their arm stretched out in front of them, but in Sherman's case, his arm was stretched out to try to make a tackle along the sidelines, where it was impacted and pinned against the ball carrier by teammate, safety Kam Chancellor.

Traditional symptoms of a UCL tear include the inability to straighten the elbow joint, numbness and tingling of the ring and pinkie finger and throughout the hand, and weakness of hand grip.  If Sherman were a receiver, he would be useless in this game, but since he on the opposite side of that spectrum, he's going to give it a go.

This could be a real problem for the Seahawks' secondary, because if the Patriots are able to find success on him early in the game, it will force Seattle to either give him safety help over the top or replace him altogether if the injury turns out to be as limiting as it should be.
Thomas injured his shoulder when he couldn't wrap up this tackle

Sherman is on record as saying that it feels better every day - but, really, what is he supposed to say?

Indeed, Sherman and the Seahawks are taking a big chance with one of the best cornerbacks in the league, as any trauma to the area could result in injury to the Ulnar nerve, which could cause protracted numbness, tingling and weakness of the hand, and in severe cases these symptoms could become permanent.

Perhaps the bigger issue, however, is the degree of separation in the shoulder of safety Earl Thomas, whose injury forced him from the NFC Championship game against Green Bay, and then returned once the shoulder was stabilized by the Seahawks' medical staff - and just like Sherman, Thomas vows to play in the Super Bowl.

Upon arriving in Glendale for the Super Bowl, Thomas declared his shoulder 100%, a farce by any stretch of the imagination, but it apparently got the attention of the NFL league offices, who selected Thomas for a "random" test for Human Growth Hormones, an occurrence that Thomas called a "league office distraction."

Human Growth Hormones, or HGH, can significantly accelerate the healing process in virtually any injury, and while the league insists that the testing done on the Pro Bowl free safety was of random selection, it seems plausible that the testing was in response to Thomas' assertion that his shoulder was healed.

A shoulder separation occurs when when the ligaments that act to stabilize the shoulder joint stretch or partially tear, causing intense pain, arm weakness and limited range of motion in mild cases.  An athlete who suffers a mild separation can recover and be back in action in two to three weeks, but just like with Sherman's elbow issue, the injury can become significantly worse - something that Thomas apparently isn't thinking about.

"When I come alive, nothing is limited." Thomas said on Tuesday in Arizona in response to questions about having to tackle the likes of the Patriots' tight end Rob Gronkowski and running back LeGarrette Blount. "I can still play fearless and throw my body around, and whatever happens, happens."

"It's a lot to deal with, my first major injury." Thomas continued, "I got the big picture."

So do the Patriots, who would be wise to test Thomas' shoulder stability early in the game as well - perhaps not in the manner that cornerback Brandon Browner suggested, that being to break his arm, but in spreading the Seahawks out and throwing the aforementioned crossers, wheel routes and screens, forcing the 5' 10", 200 pound Thomas to either square up to the receiver looking for extra yardage or be reduced to grasping for him, which would give a clear definition of the impact of his injury.

This will be even more effective if the Patriots can implement the running game early, which will draw strong safety Kam Chancellor up into the box and leave Seattle even more vulnerable in the secondary.

Browner's comments notwithstanding, New England should test the entire Seahawks' secondary, but not do it just to do it.  Balance is the key, and to arrive at a diagnosis on the two defensive backs should be quick work, but they must be careful not to sacrifice what got them to the Super Bowl just to ascertain if either player is handicapped beyond effectiveness.

Certainly, the Seahawks will try to protect them with an aggressive pass rush and by playing perhaps more zone coverages than they normally would - and whether this turns out to be the case or not, the Patriots needn't alter their game plan either way, but if Sherman and Thomas are indeed hurting, it opens up their play book just that much more.

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