The Julio Jones-Josh Norman battle wasn't as lopsided as you think
For the second week in a row, Panthers cornerback Josh Norman went one-on-one with one of the game’s best receivers, and for the second week running he got shown up a little bit — even if Norman’s play wasn’t as bad as Julio Jones’ stat line suggests.
Jones notched 178 receiving yards and a score in the game, but only 80 of them (and not the touchdown) came against Norman, who shadowed Julio across the field but not to the slot (except on a couple of late plays).
Against Odell Beckham Jr. the week before, Norman was able to claim the moral victory (of sorts) as his team won the game and Beckham lost control of himself far more than Norman did, but against Julio there was less for him to feel happy about. Norman was beaten for the biggest yardage total of his season, the highest passer rating (118.8) and the second-highest number of catches (5).
The 80 yards Norman surrendered against Atlanta was the highest figure he has allowed since midway through his rookie season, and the second-highest figure of his career — and a marked difference from the first time the two met just two weeks ago.
Here’s how they’ve matched up in their two meetings this year:
When it comes to one-on-one WR/CB matchups, determining a winner is subjective and arbitrary. Norman, for the second game running, didn’t give up a score to the guy he primarily lined up against — in this case, Jones, a player who has eight scores in his other 13 games. But he did give up more yards than he has allowed to any other receiver this season, and was exploited a couple of times when he was left on an island.
Jones was asked about Norman earlier in the week, and minimized Norman’s role as a Cover-2 cornerback. Carolina plays multiple coverages on defense and Cover-2 only about 11 percent of the time, so that’s a criticism that simply isn’t accurate regardless of how you feel about the overall sentiment that Norman benefits from the Panthers’ scheme. What it showed, however, is that Jones didn’t have the same respect for Norman’s man-to-man coverage ability that he might have for other players who are tasked with that all game long.
As mentioned earlier, Norman did track Julio in this game and was lined up across from him on 43 of the 56 snaps Jones was on the field for.
Holding Jones to just six targets in the game (Jones had nine total) in itself says something about the coverage job Norman was doing beyond the targeted plays. That is the third-lowest target figure of the season for Jones, a player who averaged 12.4 targets a game over the season outside of this game.
Over the past two games, Norman has looked a little limited athletically (albeit against two of the best athletes in the game at receiver), and though it has exposed him on a few routes in those games, he has somehow avoided it becoming a problem over the season. And if you look just at post and go routes, which challenge cornerbacks vertically down the field, Norman has given up only four receptions from 24 targets for 80 yards and one of his two touchdowns on those deep patterns, while producing two interceptions.
Norman might not be Darrelle Revis of 2009, but then again, nobody else in the NFL is either — including Revis himself. What we have seen multiple times this season is that Norman is capable of covering the best receiver an offense has to throw at him and holding his own. He has shut down a series of top-flight receivers this season, and though he has been exposed a little over the past two games, he still has reason to boast about either game.
There may be no such thing as a true shutdown corner in today’s NFL, but Josh Norman has clearly become something more than simply a role player in a beneficial scheme. He is the best player in Carolina’s secondary, able to play in multiple coverages, and capable of going up against the best players in the NFL without being taken to pieces by them.
Jones may have won this battle with Norman, but it wasn’t a dominant victory, and at best over the season the two played out a stalemate.