JERSEY CITY, N.J. -- Byron Maxwell has not been in Erin Andrews' face taunting opponents and touting his greatness. The Seahawks' other cornerback is just fine with a lower profile even though that might make him a marked man.
Maxwell leaves the best self-promotion and theatrics this side of prize fighting to teammate Richard Sherman but when it comes to covering wide receivers he has been just about as good as his better-known counterpart.
While Sherman has attracted large crowds everywhere this week, gaining hundreds of Twitter followers by the minute, Maxwell has been happy to toil in relative obscurity even though he has to know Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning likely is fixing to come right at him Sunday in Super Bowl XLVIII.
Going against Sherman has been a losing proposition for quarterbacks all season and you shouldn't just take his word for it. According to Football Outsiders, opponents targeted Sherman only 10.6 percent of the time in the regular season. He still led the NFL with eight interceptions. The 49ers' Colin Kaepernick threw at Sherman twice in the NFC championship game. The first was incomplete and Sherman deflected the second into the hands of linebacker Malcolm Smith for an interception.
But the Seahawks' "Legion of Boom" secondary faced some doom and gloom moments in November after starting cornerback Brandon Browner was suspended for one year for violation of the NFL's policy on substance abuse. Walter Thurmond replaced him in Week 11 against the Vikings before he was sidelined four games for his own substance abuse suspension.
Enter Maxwell, an unheralded sixth-round NFL draft pick from Clemson in his third season. Maxwell had played a little on defense but was more of a special teams standout. There were legitimate questions if a hole was opening in the back end of the defense when he was asked to play on the right side in a scheme that doesn't match up Sherman with opposing wide receivers.
"When your number is being called, you want to be there for everyone," Maxwell said. "It's accountability. When I first got out there, I didn't realize the standard we kept. ... You have to do your part."
Maxwell has more than held up to this point. In the final five games of the regular season he had four interceptions and had 10 pass breakups. When Thurmond came back from suspension the Seahawks kept Maxwell in the starting lineup. Football Outsiders has Sherman No. 1 in the NFL with an opposing quarterback rating of 47.3. Maxwell, with a smaller sample size, is at 47.8, No. 2 overall.
How do the Seahawks do it? How do they cultivate elite talent in the secondary with a fifth-round pick in Sherman, an undrafted free agent and CFL veteran in Browner, a sixth-round pick in Maxwell and a fifth-round pick in safety Kam Chancellor? They're all perfect fits for the scheme that demands physical play. Maxwell is tall and strong (6 feet 1, 208 pounds) but coming out of school he struggled in off man coverage, making him a non-priority for teams. That's not what Seahawks ask him to do. They want bump-and-run coverage in their Cover-3 and Cover-1 schemes. He's good at it and credits Sherman for some help along the way.
Kaepernick threw at Maxwell all game in a Week 14 meeting in San Francisco. Maxwell made a terrific play to intercept a fade route for Michael Crabtree. Kaepernick went at him again in the NFC championship game but produced little. He has been in the crosshairs of every quarterback the Seahawks have faced and has responded. Plus, he tackles well.
"That story kind of sounds familiar when you talk about Sherm early on in his career when he wasn't starting," said safety Earl Thomas, a former first-round pick and the only high selection in the secondary. "A lot of guys got hurt, and when he got his opportunity, he capitalized. That's just what Byron Maxwell is doing."
Sherman says it is too late for the Seahawks to change up their game plan, undercutting the idea he could be asked to tail Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas. The most anticipated matchup of the game is Manning and his cast of targets -- Thomas, Eric Decker, Wes Welker and tight end Julius Thomas -- against the Legion of Boom.
Surely, Manning is savvy enough to understand he will have to pick his spots if he goes at Sherman. Everyone expects him to work heavily to Maxwell's side.
"He is going to come at both of us," Maxwell said. "He is a Hall of Famer. I don't think he is afraid of anyone."
Until the game starts, Maxwell is content to listen to everyone chatter about Sherman.
"That is perfect for how I work and how I like to move," Maxwell said. "It's cool."
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