Monday, September 24, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs-Seahawks: Mike Evans vs. Richard Sherman will set game's course

TAMPA

Watch the ball and you will miss the game. So today, pay attention to the best battle that likely will determine the outcome of the Bucs-Seahawks game: Bucs receiver Mike Evans against Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman.

There will be hand fighting, elbows, body blows and more trash talk than at a sanitation workers meeting. Push might come to shove.

Then the game will start.

No, really, Evans versus Sherman in a city park would be worth the price of admission, to say nothing of the matchup happening in arguably the biggest game the Bucs have played since 2008 at Raymond James Stadium.

"You've got to be aware of, obviously, one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, but I like my guy," Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston said. "Mike is having an amazing year, and that's just trust. Sherman has covered a lot of guys in his career. But at the end of the day, he doesn't have that connection that me and Mike have. At the end of the day, he still has to defend us and stop everyone."

Coach Dirk Koetter, perhaps not wanting to tug on Superman's cape, was more diplomatic.

"Again, I'm sure if you ask Richard Sherman, he's going to say, 'I can shut down anybody,' " Koetter said. "That's why people go to the game to watch.

By any measure, Evans is having a Pro Bowl year. With 84 more receiving yards, he will join the Bengals' A.J. Green and former greats John Jefferson and Randy Moss as the only players to post 1,000 or more receiving yards in each of their first three NFL seasons. He is third in the league entering today with eight touchdown catches.

Sherman is considered the best cover cornerback in the game. His ability to shadow receivers and his 30 interceptions in five-plus seasons have him headed to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The bigger the stage, the bigger the show for Sherman.

"I play some of the best athletes in the world, going at it one-on-one," Evans said. "That's great. Hopefully (Sherman will) match me. I'm a big fan of his, and I think it will be a fun day."

At 6 feet 5 and 230 pounds, Evans has an advantage of 2 inches and about 35 pounds over Sherman. Evans' best trait is his physical play. Sherman's length and explosiveness to the ball are unmatched.

"This will be a good one," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "Our guys that will line up on (Evans) are going to have to be real effective at the line of scrimmage because he's really strong. He uses his hands really well. He's a fighter and a clawer and scratcher, just like our guys. … So it should be some good battles."

Koetter said the Bucs have the benefit of watching Sherman battle Falcons receiver Julio Jones in Week 6. Early in that game, the Falcons believed the best way to combat Sherman was to avoid him. That's why they lined up Jones in the slot six times in the first quarter while Sherman remained outside. But Jones had no targets in the first quarter. His two catches for 24 yards was a victory for the Seahawks.

In the second quarter, some quick-breaking routes — a hook, a slant — allowed Jones to get open. In the third quarter, Jones had five catches for 115 yards and a touchdown on a coverage bust when the Falcons put their top receiver in motion. But the fourth quarter consisted of only two targets, including one that bounced off Jones, was tipped in the air by Sherman and intercepted by safety Earl Thomas. The other target was controversial; Sherman could have been called for pass interference.

The Seahawks won 26-23.

"It's no big secret, in critical situations teams are looking for their No. 1 guy," Koetter said. "And we're no different than Atlanta or anybody else."

Lest you think Sherman is slowing, he allowed one catch for 19 yards on four targets and had an interception Sunday against the Eagles. Quarterback Carson Wentz had a 7.3 rating when targeting Sherman.

"(Sherman) likes to get up," Bucs receivers coach Todd Monken said. "He's long, athletic, a former receiver, really good at reading routes, getting his hands on you. He can play the ball in the air. It's a real challenge for (Evans), and I know it's one he's looking forward to. If you consider yourself a real competitor, you want to go against the best and see where you stack up. Mike's at that point."

Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson, who has faced Sherman in practice, has advice for fellow quarterbacks: "The thing about Richard is you won't make too much of a profit going over there too often. You've got to be smart."

The better team may or may not come out on top today, but the team with the better player between Evans and Sherman will.

Times staff writer Greg Auman contributed to this report.

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