Both Odell Beckham and Josh Norman earned bad grades on Sunday

Sam Monson explains how PFF graded Giants WR Odell Beckham Jr. and Panthers CB Josh Norman in their head-to-head matchup.

| 10 months ago
Josh Norman vs. Odell Beckham Jr.

(AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

Both Odell Beckham and Josh Norman earned bad grades on Sunday

The Panthers-Giants showdown on Sunday put Carolina’s undefeated record on the line, and was a critical game for New York’s playoff hopes, but it was headlined by one of the best individual matchups of the year in Josh Norman vs. Odell Beckham Jr.

All too often, when you build up such a potentially explosive one-on-one matchup like this, it ends up being a disappointment, if indeed the two even spend that much time going up against each other one-on-one. That wasn’t the case in this one.

Beckham and Norman lined up across from each other on 56 snaps in this game, and the only times that didn’t really happen was when Beckham moved to the slot (18 snaps).

What was the outcome? Beckham was thrown at nine times overall (seven with Norman in coverage), catching six of them (four vs. Norman) for 76 yards (30), a TD (one) and two drops (two).

There was also the small matter of one of the most ill-disciplined and ill-tempered displays you will see between two players. This was a brawl that happened to feature some football. Punches were thrown, helmet-to-helmet hits were launched, and the pair combined for five unnecessary roughness penalties, two on Norman and three on Beckham, who was also flagged for offensive pass interference.

In the end, both players dragged the other down and we didn’t really see their best in the game.  They each ended the game with negative PFF grades, though the biggest negatives for both players weren’t in receiving or coverage.

Norman emerged on the winning team and with a reasonable-looking performance statistically, despite getting beat for a score late, but he was torched deep on a couple of occasions earlier in the game only for Beckham to drop the ball or Giants quarterback Eli Manning to miss the throw.



On one of the first plays of the game, Norman found himself on an island against Beckham playing with outside leverage in bail technique. Beckham beat him badly off the line and broke inside to open space, only to drop a certain touchdown. This was a tone-setter for the game. With an opportunity to establish his dominance early, Beckham instead sparked the frustration that burned through his play the rest of the game.

Coming into the game, Beckham — the man known for one-handed and other highlight-reel catches — had just two drops on the season, and four in his entire NFL career. He had two in Sunday’s game alone, including that early one that should have been a deep score, and was visibly allowing his frustration with Norman to boil over throughout the game.

It appeared that Beckham had the beating of Norman for deep speed, but when things were closer to the line of scrimmage, Norman’s physicality leveled the playing field a little and he was able to hold his own, or even gain an advantage, all while constantly needling his opponent and pushing him further over the edge.

Both players flirted with crossing the line, if not marching straight past it, and Beckham certainly could have been ejected for throwing punches or his reckless helmet-to-helmet hit.

In the end, we got to see two of the best players at their respective positions in this season’s NFL go head-to-head for almost a full game, but instead of being treated to a high-level matchup, we witnessed both players dragging each other down into a mire of mediocre football and petty physical retribution. It remained compelling viewing, but this was a battle with no real winner.

Carolina won the game and remained undefeated, but neither Norman nor Beckham came out of this game with improved standing.

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN.

  • crosseyedlemon

    Tom Coughlin did nothing to stop Beckham’s bad antics so it’s clear Tom doesn’t expect to be back as coach next season. Norman was probably more upset at his own poor play than Beckham but he shouldn’t have whined about being bullied because other receivers are now going to try to get him off his game the same way (minus the personal fouls of course).

    • sonny el

      To be fair, Tom coughlin in all likelihood would have benched Beckham if not for the fact they were fighting for their playoff lives and his own job and were down huge. He knew they had no chance of coming back with Beckham on the bench. I don’t blame him for leaving him in, although it didn’t look like he said anything to him on the sidelines.

      I thought Norman played quite well overall outside that td drop

      • crosseyedlemon

        Apparently the veterans on the team who are suppose to provide leadership didn’t say a thing to Beckham either. If Beckham had acted like that on a New England team both Belichick and Brady would have come down on him like a ton of bricks.

  • unc54

    I say Norman won. He may have been beat physically but his persona and attitude threw OBJ off of his game until the 4th quarter and even then the only real damage Odell did against Norman was that one TD reception that was a difficult TD catch. I think Norman deserves more credit for making Odell shut himself down for a lot of the game.

    • Anonymous

      Well, I don’t think Norman had anything to do with him dropping an easy TD on the second play of the game.

      I think, THAT, more than anything Norman did is what got OBJ shook. If he catches that pass, the narrative might have been very different.

      I don’t think you can say either of them “won” anything. They embarrassed themselves, OBJ more so than Norman.

  • mA6x1zUa

    There seems to be an outbreak of false equivalence in regard to Beckham’s behavior in the Panthers win over the Giants. Every time this is referred to as a brawl rather than a pure failure Terry McAuley’s officiating crew and the Giants’ coaching staff is a disservice to both Josh Norman and the Panthers in general. Beckham should have been thrown out of the game on two separate occasions. Troy Aikman criticized Tom Coughlin for his inaction. Carl Banks of the Giants own radio crew expressed disbelief at Beckham’s actions and Coughlin’s inaction. Peter King of MMQB dedicated hundreds of words to the failures of Coughlin in regard to Beckham’s thuggery.

    The NFL is a sport with brutality on display on a weekly basis. There are plays every week where the result is serious injury. The vast majority of these plays are part of the competition, the unfortunate consequence of high speed collisions between enormous people. Beckham’s actions didn’t serve to advance the action in any way, only to attempt to injure Norman.

    This wasn’t a brawl. This was a failure of the Giants coach Tom Coughlin, Terry McAuley’s officiating crew and above all an illegal activity by Odell Beckham Jr.

  • JudoPrince

    I understand the author wants to highlight how an obscene level of chippy play can downgrade players, but it’s just simply not the case for Norman. If you watch tape of this game, it’s clear that Norman was clearly beaten on just one play….the surefire TD drop in the first quarter. The other non touchdown catches against Norman were minimal gains and defended rather well. Not to mention the jarring hit Norman made after one reception, dislodging the football out of bounds.

    Now lets break down the Beckham TD at the end of the game. The play begins at the 14.5 yard line, with Odell starting his move at the 12. It’s a stop and go route where he fakes to the inside and then cuts back out in an attempt to beat his man to the endzone. But Norman plays it to perfection. Using inside technique, Beckham is never able to get Norman’s hips turned. As he cuts back to the outside (9 yd line) Norman is in great position. It is at the 7 yard line where Beckham extends his right arm into Norman’s left shoulder, creating clear separation at the 5, allowing him to run underneath the pass in the endzone.

    I fail to see how Norman could receive anything other than a positive grade on this play. If anything, the play should be used as a teaching tool on how to play inside technique around the goal line. Offensive pass interference has been called in this league for much less; the moment he extended his arm to create leverage is where the flag should’ve be thrown. It was the only chance Beckham had at making a play against perfect coverage.

    • Anonymous

      Do you know what a slant and go route is? That was not a stop and go, he fakes to the inside.

      He was cleanly beaten for the actual TD. As a matter of fact, the only contact between them until after the ball had already arrived was when he tried to grab beckham and gave him the left arm extension.

      That is not good man coverage. At all. As a matter of fact, there’s safety help inside and he still got beat to the outside. That is positive-press man coverage to you? He was actually trying to funnel him to the outside and still got beat. Beckham didn’t “attempt” to beat him outside, he succeeded in doing so. Very easily.

      Also, he was targeted 7 times, with Beckham the primary target on all 7. The only 2 incomplete passes were drops by Beckham. This is good coverage how?

      None of this means that all the extra curricular stuff wasn’t BS because it was. But if we’re talking about just the actual football plays between the whistles, were it not for a Beckham easy TD drop, Norman’s grade would have been a picture of a burnt piece of toast. Some of those minimal gains were 3rd down conversions with the Giants driving to get back into the game, which they eventually did. There’s no “winners” of that ugliness.

      • JudoPrince

        “….and he still got beat to the outside.”

        Lets define getting ‘beat’. This occurs when a receiver creates clear separation from the defender (I would say at least arm’s length) providing

        • Lee

          I went back and counted that he only had 4 receptions for 28 yards while Norman was guarding him and one of those Norman forced a fumble, which luckily for OBJ, went out of bounds. The TD was only allowed due to offensive pass interference. I think this article is overly critical on Norman.

          • JudoPrince

            I would love to know how PFF specifically graded the forced fumble play. It was a textbook hit by Norman and the ball was clearly dislodged against Beckham’s will. What if the ball had been recovered by the Panthers? Would he have received a top grade for the play? Or does Norman get penalized for the ball going out of bounds, thus not receiving the higher grade?

        • Anonymous

          1. You define “getting beat” as clear separation, which Beckham got, so he got beat. You are studying that replay from the angle that you want to see it, which is that he only got open because he pushed off. But the reality is after the fake inside slant, Norman tries to grab him and Beckham pushes that grab away. This type of hand fighting happens on every single play between DB’s and WR’s. That was not in any way shape or form offensive PI. It’s not like he extends the arm into Norman’s shoulder and Norman has his hands at his side. He’s reaching out to do the same thing to Beckham. That’s what you’d call “losing at the top of the route”. It’s also bad leverage as I pointed out earlier. There’s help inside, he should have been forcing his leverage inside rather than outside but then even so, know he’s going to go outside he still doesn’t get there.

          2. I said NORMAN was targeted seven times, with Beckham the receiver on those 7, not Beckham’s overall target numbers (so I was in agreement with the article). I guess the slant Beckham caught when Norman started the play lined up over him they didn’t attribute to Norman’s coverage, so we’ll say it’s 4 catches then to be in agreement with the article.

          3. Then you said “So Beckham actually caught four passes for 30 yards against Josh Norman. That also includes the TD reception. I’d call that a fairly pedestrian day against Norman for a receiver many consider one of the best in football”…pedestrian by Beckham’s standards yes, but it had nothing to do with the coverage Norman provided. Had he caught all the catchable passes (something Norman had no control over), there would have been 60 yards and another TD against Norman. That’s not a good day for Norman, which is why the grade is so negative and would have been even worse had it not been for Beckham himself posting a negative grade.

          • JudoPrince

            Answer this question. At what yard line does clear separation actually occur? It’s not until inside the 5….do you not see this? I’m simply explaining to you that despite the peak of Beckham’s route occurring outside the 10 yard line. Norman was stuck on him several yards later. He was inside his hip pocket, with zero degree of separation during that span. For Norman to be able to defend this route to that point against a quality wr using a quality move, is plus defense.

            Are you also saying that Beckham didn’t EXTEND his right arm on the play? He clearly did regardless of the angle you are watching the play. I”m sure there was some inside hand jostling on the part of Norman, but that’s just further evidence of how close he was to his man. That happens on just about every play where there is tight coverage.

            The arm extension by Beckham is key because that is where the separation occurs. As I alluded to in my initial comment, I’ve seen that play called for offensive P.I; you have too. It’s a general rule of thumb that a flag could be thrown on a receiver anytime his arm is EXTENDED, with contact on the defender.

          • Anonymous

            I’m saying it doesn’t matter when the separation occurs, only THAT it occurs. There was obviously more than enough room to fit the pass in, given that he caught it for a TD.

            Second. I’ve got this freeze-framed at the 3 second mark of the video. This is the top of the route at the 9 yard line, Norman attempts to grab Beckham right at the 5 yard contact mark (borderline illegal contact if you want to look at it that way) and then he’s got his back to the pass, when he tries to turn his hips, Beckham pulls away from him. I’m sorry but I’ve never seen that called offensive PI. It has to be much more blatant than a little hand fighting.

            Then look again at 1:14 mark. It is Norman that reaches out to grab Beckham instead of trying to stay in-phase with him. Then he panics and tries to grab him again at the 1:16 mark and misses. He loses the hand fight and boom, TD. Basically, he tries to grab him at the 9 yard line and gets stiff armed. Yes he extended his arm, no it is not offensive PI.

            Now freeze it again at 1:24. They’ve both got their hands on each other. So if you want to talk about “letter of the law” he Norman shouldn’t be touching him at all right there.

            Finally, you’re saying he should have had outside leverage, but then he still gets beat to the outside and in your original comment you said this should be a positive grade. That doesn’t make logical sense.

          • Anonymous
  • RIch

    Beckham was out of control, no doubt, but it’s shocking that nobody is discussing the behavior of both Norman and Finnegan, who both were egregious in their behavior. Norman looked like he was playing WWE in the first quarter and you could see Beckham throwing his hands up wondering how this was being allowed. I’m appalled at the duplicity of the media. If Beckham should be suspended, so should Norman. And for the record, I’m not a Giants fan.

  • nylsjd

    Absolutely nailed this article. The eye test yesterday had me believing that Norman was anything but stellar. Odell, on the drop alone, wasn’t going to grade out well either. Sadly, both players should be embarrassed by their actions.

  • averagejoe43

    Well done, Sam. This is the first article I’ve read that included Norman’s 2 unnecessary roughness calls and the fact of OBJ burning Norman early…..that pissed Norman off and it showed early. But the refs refused to throw a flag early. If the refs had done their job, I think we might have seen that high-level matchup you spoke about.

    Been a bad year for the refs.

    • crosseyedlemon

      The more the refs involve themselves in the outcome of the games the worse things get so I am not that upset that they decided to let the players sort it out between themselves for a change.
      Of course their is going to be a backlash now so expect a record number of calls to be made next week. The officials haven’t blown a coin toss yet so Roger Goodell is still very happy with them.