Following the Monday night massacre of Washington’s NFL team at the hands of Antonio Brown and the Pittsburgh Steelers, high-priced free agent acquisition Josh Norman has been under fire all week—despite not even allowing a touchdown pass.
In this Monday, Sept. 12, 2016, file photo, Washington Redskins cornerback Josh Norman (24) warms up before an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Landover, Md. Will $75 million Redskins CB Josh Norman be assigned to cover the Cowboys’ Dez Bryant on Sunday? (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)
The star cornerback’s arrival in the District this summer was supposed to cancel out opposing receivers. Instead, Norman’s backfield partner, Bashaud Breeland, took on Brown on Sept. 12, resulting in an eight-catch, 126-yard, two-touchdown night for the smaller Brown.
Norman was a lockdown corner who blanketed some of the NFL’s top receivers last season for Super Bowl runner up Carolina. It was widely anticipated that Norman would cover Brown exclusively on opening weekend, so many came away from Washington’s 38-16 loss to Pittsburgh feeling cheated. Even a few NFL players used social media to express their displeasure of not seeing Norman glued to Brown. Is the criticism of Norman fair? Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley of the AFRO Sports Desk debate this pressing question.
Riley: It was a bit perplexing why Washington’s coaching staff, or Norman himself, elected to not stick Norman on Brown exclusively. But Norman did accomplish the one job he was brought in to do: lock down one half of the field. The few times that Norman was matched against Brown he nearly intercepted one pass and nearly forced a fumble on another, so the competitiveness and ability were obviously there. Critics will point to Brown’s big night and question whether or not Norman should have been paired with him. But some blame falls on Washington’s defensive coaches, considering that Norman had his side of the field sewed up and Washington couldn’t prevent Pittsburgh from scoring five touchdowns all to the left side of the offense, opposite of Norman. Fans didn’t get the marquee matchup, but Norman executed his job better than any other Washington defender.
Green: When you’re the highest paid defender on the team and the self-proclaimed best cornerback in the league then you need to prove it by covering the best wide receivers. Period. If Washington is going to pay Norman to be Deion Sanders, then he needs to do what “Primetime” did best: shutting down the opposing team’s top option. Washington and Norman will get another test this week when Dez Bryant and the Dallas Cowboys visit D.C. If we don’t see Norman checking Bryant exclusively then it could be time to start asking for a refund from the $75 million man.
Riley: They were concerns last season as to whether Norman was a pure lockdown one-on-one cover guy, or strictly a zone scheme corner. The answer was never revealed, and Washington opted to sign a defender who they assumed was capable of handling both duties. Norman’s going to draw criticism no matter what he does. He’s painted a bullseye on his back thanks to his solid play—and his willingness to let everyone know about it—but it’s clear he’s the top defensive back on Washington’s roster. It’s even more evident after last week that teams will shy away from his side and that’s exactly what he was paid to do.
Green: It’s easy to lock up one side when the opposing team is lining up their worst wide receiver against you, and sending their top weapon to the adjacent side to terrorize the other corner. Several Washington fans were ecstatic with Norman’s signing after what he did last season in Carolina, but if Breeland continues to be abused then it won’t be long before Norman’s signing turns into another bonehead move for the Washington brass. Breeland was the top defensive back on the team last year and, although it’s only been one game, he now appears to be the weak link in the defensive backfield. However, if Norman would have shadowed Brown throughout the contest, Breeland’s size and speed should have been able to handle a Pittsburgh wide receiving corps missing two of its top three weapons. The criticism is warranted. We didn’t see Norman cover Brown, and the latter torched Washington in a nationally televised game. Norman will have some explaining to do if it happens again.