PHILADELPHIA -- Richard Sherman's intense, almost scary sideline interview after Sunday’s NFC Championship Game provoked a variety of equally intense reactions around the country.
For an Eagles fan, the reaction probably should be something like this: Yes. That is exactly what the Eagles need more of -- not less, but more.
No one is condoning Sherman’s choke sign or his apparent taunting of San Francisco wide receiver Michael Crabtree. But that on-the-edge ferocity, that borderline antisocial attitude -- that is what Cary Williams meant from the moment the free-agent cornerback started talking during training camp last summer.
Williams had played with Ray Lewis and Ed Reed in Baltimore, had been part of a defense that actually intimidated opponents. He had his own history of over-the-top behavior, which included shoving an official during an on-field scuffle in the Super Bowl last year.
Maybe the Eagles signed Williams in spite of that history. Or maybe they signed him because of it. Either way, that edgy, angry personality was something the Eagles desperately lacked on their defense over the past few years. In fact, one of the great mysteries of Andy Reid’s decline is how he allowed his defense to erode into an apathetic unit that played as soft as wet tissue in 2011 and 2012.
It takes time to get from the passivity of 2012 to the ferocity of defenses like Seattle’s, San Francisco’s and Carolina’s. The Eagles aren’t there yet, but they are at least headed in that direction now.
“I think we took some steps,” Williams said after the Eagles’ first-round playoff exit. “Like I said before, it’s going to take years for that. It’s not just a one-year situation. For people to fear you in this league, you have to do it on a consistent basis. You have to be out there flying around, you have to make plays.”
That part can’t be overlooked. Sherman didn’t just shoot his mouth off in the immediate aftermath of a game-winning play. He made the game-winning play, running stride for stride with Crabtree, elevating at the perfect moment and swiping an accurate pass away. It was a play few cornerbacks are capable of making.
But the attitude is part of it. Both teams in the NFC title game had that aura of toughness and backed it up. It seemed as if players were slow to get up after every whistle. And while the gruesome replay of NaVorro Bowman’s knee injury is hard to watch, the remarkable thing is that he held on to the football throughout.
The Seahawks are going to the Super Bowl because their defense forced Colin Kaepernick to turn the ball over three times in the fourth quarter. That’s the bar the Eagles have to clear to compete in the NFC in the next few years.
That means getting better on defense, but it also means getting nastier and more intimidating. The rest of the world may be reacting to Sherman’s behavior, but Seahawks fans are celebrating a trip to the Super Bowl.
“In order to get any type of respect, you have to do it consecutively and consistently,” Williams said. “As far as I’m concerned, we made great progress. We’re not necessarily perfect. We’re not necessarily the greatest defense. We still have some work to do.”