The New Orleans Saints might be facing the best cornerback in the NFL when they go up against the Seattle Seahawks’ Richard Sherman on Monday night. But the Saints might have the league’s most underrated cornerback in Keenan Lewis.
They both deserve to be invited to the Pro Bowl -- though chances appear pretty strong that one of them will have to skip it to play in the Super Bowl instead.
Lewis, who has been a huge reason for the Saints’ revamped defense this year since signing as a free agent from the Pittsburgh Steelers, admitted last week that he’s eager to share the spotlight when the Seahawks (10-1) host the Saints (9-2) on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.”
“I’m excited anytime you have the opportunity to play 'Monday Night Football,' when the whole world gets the chance to see you. And also with the corners they have and just having the opportunity to show those guys, you know, I feel like I’m just as good as any one of them,” Lewis said last Thursday night -- before the news broke that Seahawks corners Walter Thurmond and Brandon Browner would be suspended. “And you know, this team is great. It should be a great matchup.”
Lewis has measured up pretty well statistically to Sherman this year. Sherman has four interceptions and eight pass defenses. Lewis has three picks, one forced fumble and eight pass defenses.
More importantly, though, is the numbers that aren’t being posted.
Opposing offenses have pretty much stayed away from both guys this year. Lewis has allowed only one touchdown, a total of 312 yards and an opponents’ quarterback rating of 55.2, according to Pro Football Focus (which ranks fifth best among all regular cornerbacks).
That’s especially impressive, considering Lewis has spent almost every week shadowing the opponent’s top receiver. The Saints trust the 6-foot-1, 208-pounder in single coverage because of his long arms, his ability to play physical press coverage and his solid speed. Recent quiet performances by Dallas’ Dez Bryant and Atlanta’s Roddy White helped emphasize Lewis' importance.
“Keenan is doing a great job. Long arms. He’s physical at the line. He can make some plays,” Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson said in a conference call with New Orleans media Wednesday. “I believe he has three picks this year. He has done a great job and made some big-time plays for the Saints when they needed him. You have a lot of respect for him.
“And that whole defense, really, to be honest with you. That defensive line has done a tremendous job of getting to the quarterback. We know it’s going to be a tough feat. We know it’s two top teams in the NFC, we believe. It’s going to be a great battle. It’s going to be a dogfight and we have to be ready for it.”
Last year, Lewis didn’t have any interceptions -- part of the reason he isn’t as well known as a guy like Sherman (eight interceptions in 2012). But they ranked first and second in the NFL last season in pass defenses (24 for Sherman, 23 for Lewis).
This year, Sherman has allowed two touchdowns, a total of 410 yards and an opposing passer rating of 67.0, according to Pro Football Focus.
There’s a good chance that the Seahawks will match up the physical 6-3, 195-pound Sherman on Saints tight end Jimmy Graham on Monday night -- an approach that a handful of teams have tried this year, to varying levels of success.
That would be an epic head-to-head duel between two guys who will probably wind up as first-team All-Pros this year.