Josh Norman is high-profile and highly-paid, but he is no shutdown cornerback

Aaron Gray writes Washington cornerback Josh Norman styles himself the NFL's best, but his ineffectiveness against Pittsburgh in Week 1 showed why he was just a system product in Carolina.
Illustration: Jonathan Raymond / The National
Illustration: Jonathan Raymond / The National

It does not take a beautiful football mind to know the best wide receiver in the NFL should attract only the top defenders from the opposing team. Basic logic, right?

That is why Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown must have snickered when he lined up for the first play from scrimmage last week against the Washington Redskins and did not see Josh Norman standing in front of him.

During the offseason, the Redskins made Norman the league’s highest-paid cornerback when they inked a $75 million (Dh275.5m) deal over five years. This came after Norman helped lead the Carolina Panthers to last year’s Super Bowl.

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But during his first game in a Washington uniform, Norman did not cover Brown and instead, he lined up opposite of Pittsburgh rookie Eli Rogers. Is it possible that Norman is not even the best cornerback on his own team?

Several players from around the league, including the usually tight-lipped Victor Cruz from the New York Giants, took a few jabs at Norman this past week.

“[Norman] calls himself the best corner in the league – then you have to go cover the best receivers on the other team,” Cruz told ESPN. “Going in, I thought he was going to follow [Brown] all over the place, but he didn’t. So it is what it is. He made his choice.”

Or did he?

It was not like Norman showed up at the stadium that night and just decided he was not going to cover Brown. It had to be determined during the practices leading up to the game as the Redskins worked on their schemes for Pittsburgh.

The plan for Norman not to cover Brown was the decision of Washington defensive coordinator Joe Barry and it was a very bad one.

Norman stayed glued to the right side of the field, meaning he was locked into defending whichever Pittsburgh receiver lined up against him. So Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Todd Haley simply moved Brown to the other side and left Norman to defend a young receiver playing his first game.

Against Bashaud Breeland, the Redskins’ other corner, Brown racked up eight catches for 126 yards and two touchdowns. Even Rogers – the rookie Norman covered most of the night – caught a touchdown pass. It all amounted to a 38-16 victory for Pittsburgh.

Sure, it was only Week 1 and there are many more games this season for Norman to earn that paycheck against other top-ranked receivers.

The Dallas Cowboys (0-1) visit Washington (0-1) on Sunday and Dez Bryant will be looking to make up for a quiet season opener. The Redskins meet the Giants (1-0) in Week 3 and Odell Beckham Jr will have a much-anticipated rendezvous with Norman after the pair scrapped last season.

What NFL fans saw last week is that Norman may be paid the most but he may not be the “shutdown” cornerback many Washington fans had expected.

Darrelle Revis and Richard Sherman – they are shutdown corners who can lock up a top receiver in a one-on-one battle and simply erase them from the game. Norman? Not so much.

He excelled the previous two seasons in Carolina because of the system he was in. There was a lot of talent around him and the Panthers knew this. It is probably why they did not meet his lofty asking price and let him go.

Some of the league’s best cornerbacks will “travel” during the course of a game – in other words, shift which side of the field they play, depending on where an opponent’s top receiver lines up. But do not expect Norman to make the trip.

“I think ‘traveling’ or not ‘traveling,’ one side or the other side, who really cares, man?” Norman told The Dallas News. “Let’s just get the job done. Whoever gets the job done, so be it, man. All this talk about this guy matches up with that guy, who really freakin’ cares?”

There are 75 million reasons why the Redskins should care.

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Thursday’s result

NY Jets 37 Buffalo Bills 31

Matt Forte rushed for three touchdowns and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for 374 yards as the Jets (1-1) snapped a five-game losing streak against Buffalo. Tyrod Taylor tossed three touchdowns for the Bills (0-2), including scoring strikes of 84 and 71 yards, but came up just short in this back-and-forth battle in upstate New York.

Sunday’s fixtures in UAE time

San Francisco 49ers at Carolina Panthers, 9pm

Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers, 9pm

New Orleans Saints at NY Giants, 9pm

Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots, 9pm

Dallas Cowboys at Washington Redskins, 9pm

Kansas City Chiefs at Houston Texans, 9pm

Tennessee Titans at Detroit Lions, 9pm

Baltimore Ravens at Cleveland Browns, 9pm

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Arizona Cardinals, midnight

Seattle Seahawks at Los Angeles Rams, midnight

Atlanta Falcons at Oakland Raiders, midnight

Jacksonville Jaguars at San Diego Chargers, midnight

Indianapolis Colts at Denver Broncos, midnight

Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings, 3.30am

Monday’s fixture

Philadelphia Eagles at Chicago Bears, 3.30am

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Published: September 16, 2016 04:00 AM

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