The Julio Jones-Josh Norman battle wasn’t as lopsided as you think

Panthers star is still the closest thing to a shutdown cornerback in today's NFL.

| 10 months ago
(AP Photo/David Goldman)

(AP Photo/David Goldman)

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.

| Senior Analyst

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

  • David

    You say that Jones had nine targets in the game, but I think that’s wrong. He had nine catches, and dropped at least two passes thrown to him, putting him right there at his 12.4 average.

    • Jaqziyrrey

      Actually not dropped Norman knocked one out.

  • Henry

    You said that Norman hasn’t let up a score in two weeks, but he was definitely covering OBJ on his late game tying touchdown.

  • Anonymous

    In Norman’s last 3 games (Julio, Beckham, Julio) teams have gone 13-18 against Norman for 140 yards, and a TD. And two of the 5 incomplete passes were drops, including a dropped 52 yard TD. He’s been abused, and badly the past 3 weeks especially when asked to do what Darrelle Revis and Patrick Peterson do for most plays of games (not a handful of man coverage snaps a game).

    He’s not better than Revis even in 2015. This probably wasn’t the best time to write this article.

    • Jay Mitchell

      Luckily both of those players will be watching from home after next week

      • Anonymous

        They certainly will be, but that has nothing to do with 13-18 for 140 yards, a TD and a dropped TD.

        • Jay Mitchell

          Along with Antonio Brown, they are leagues top receivers. No one has shown the ability to cover them consistently. The panthers need someone on the DLine other than Short to get some pressure

          • Anonymous

            Peterson did a good job on Antonio Brown. So did Sherman. Revis has been doing against the leagues best for a long time (this season included). Those 3 are the guys that everyone is trying elevate Norman above and he’s not above them.

          • Jay Mitchell

            I hear you, those matchups will happen once every 4-5 years. i think if the two matchups were further apart Norman may have faired better. Its hard to face one of your arch rivals twice in three weeks. For the record I dont think Norman is better than those players you mentioned, especially Revis, but he bet on himself and his having a fantastic season. Julio torched peterson last season .

          • Anonymous

            Alright so we seem to be in somewhat agreement then. I agree it’s hard to play a team twice in 3 weeks like that and yes, Norman is having a fantastic season (past couple games against the elite of the elite aside) I just was trying to point out I didn’t think people should be putting him ahead of the “the big 3″ for lack of a better term. And people have been doing that all season.

            Peterson this season and last season is night and day now that he’s got that diet/diabetes situation seemingly under control, because he had a really bad season in 2014. Would love to see a Julio/Peterson rematch now.

          • Jay Mitchell

            Absolutely, all of that was premature and was fueled by a unattainable start (against mediocre QBs) . Don’t think is a nnandi asomugha situatuion though and I hope the panthers can afford to keep him.

          • Anonymous

            Yeah I don’t think it’s a Nnamdi situation. Panthers have all the bargaining leverage and if he asks for the “moon and stars” in terms of salary, they can point to these past couple games as to why he shouldn’t be paid the “moon and stars”

          • Trev

            Peterson was playing Michael Vick when guarding AB, how is that the same as what Sherman did? Given how awful Vick was this season (remember NEGATIVE passing yards at the half vs San Diego) can’t even compare the two.

            This 2015 version Vick is utterly useless, baffles me how my steelers won two in spite of him.

          • Anonymous

            It’s not, Sherman’s job was more impressive in that regard given the QB situation. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that they still BOTH did a good job on him regardless of the QB. We won’t know if Peterson would have also shut him down if Big Ben was playing.

            Hell if DeAndre Hopkins can do what he’s doing with that scrap heap list of QB’s…

          • Brian

            Its called the other teams losing to the steelers and not the steelers winning against those two wins with vick in, especially the charger game.

      • Jaqziyrrey

        Yes they will but every team in the playoffs is happy if that because of Julio not being there.

    • Mike Jones

      peterson got smoked by julio too

      • Anonymous

        Talking about this season, the Cardinals and Falcons have not played each other.

        • Jaqziyrrey

          So wtf Peterson was still talking last year and Julio shut his mouth . Pat P is good but just have people to stop talking when they see ATL on their schedule. That’s what Norman did well he talked about Roddy even though Roddy was like 6 for 67 on there team they are both good.

    • J Will

      He’s played possibly Jerry Rice and Michael Irvin both in their prime, back to back to back and given up 140 yards and a pushoff Touchdown. I wouldn’t call that being abused.

      • Anonymous

        A “push off” touchdown (LOL handfighting happens on every play, there’s no way that’s a penalty) and a dropped 50 yard TD where he wasn’t anywhere close the the receiver. 18 targets, 13 completions, 2 drops. He’s been abused.

        • Anonymous

          Also, it’s a LITTLE bit premature to call Odell Jerry Rice, no?

          • J Will

            It is for a CAREER, not for a game.

        • J Will

          We’ll agree to disagree.

          1.These aren’t regular receivers were talking about. These are HOF type guys. 2. On the drop who’s to say Josh wasn’t in his head on that play? When have you seen him drop a ball like that?
          3. It was handfighting but you and I both know we’ve seen extended arms called a penalty. Bottom line.. If Jerry Rice has to extend his arm against you to get open you’re doing pretty good.
          4. If your Corner back was facing Julio, Beckham, Julio back to back to back … Tell me you wouldn’t take 140 yards and a touchdown.

          • Anonymous

            1. Continue to read my further discussion below. I called those receivers “the elite of the elite”.
            2. Calling Odell Jerry Rice is a bit premature.
            3. It was the 2nd play of the game that he dropped that TD. We know about all the pregame stuff (which all the coverage indicates it was some practice squad guy that was “in his head” but “being in his head” has nothing to do with “he had good coverage on that play”. So you mean to tell me he let Odell get by him on purpose because he knew he was in his head and he’d drop it?
            4. Again, continue to read below. Peterson, Revis, and Sherman have not been beat up like that this season. Sure they’ve given up a couple TD’s each (Hopkins vs. Revis, Sherman vs. Britt, James Jones, etc) but not 13-18, which really should have been 15-18.

            And also, 140 and a touchdown isn’t the final story because he doesn’t follow guys all over the field either. Beckham had another 50 yards in that game that wasn’t in Norman’s coverage and Julio had another 100. If you continue to read below, I give Norman credit for a fantastic season, but when we’re talking about “best of the best”, he’s not in that category.

          • J Will

            1. Its VERY premature to call Odell Jerry Rice for a CAREER, not for a game. What made Jerry Rice so great is that he’s Odell for a LONG TIME. Longevity doesn’t matter for a single matchup.

            2. If your mother tells you “DON’T LEAVE THE HOUSE”, when you’re a kid she creates PRESSURE. Even if SHE leaves, that pressure effects you. You could jog around the block and she wouldn’t know it but pressure effects you. Pressure got to Odell, so much so that Josh effectively shut him down for not one but TWO games. If that’s not the case name another time where this happened to Odell.

            3. I agree that Norman isn’t Revis, Peterson, (Sherman is very similar) which is why I don’t really compare them. Would you compare a 3-4 outside linebacker with a 4-3 outside linebacker and say the 3-4 guy is better because he has more sacks? Why not?

          • Anonymous

            I just don’t see how Odell dropping a gimme pass has anything to do with trash-talk, pregame hoopla, blah blah blah. Trash talk is part of every sport. I don’t see them as correlated. How do you know that it wasn’t that very drop that set him off? Guy already plays on the edge. Beats his guy very easily, drops it, and then flips out?

            I see your point about 3-4 vs 4-3 OLB, but it’s not exactly a similar comparison. When people (like the one that wrote this article) say that “Josh Norman is the premier shutdown corner in the NFL”, I have to pick holes at that, which is what I was doing. These comparisons always end up sounding like you’re trying to take something away from someone by saying another is better. That’s not the case. Norman is a great player, but given his role in the defense, his performance when facing the elite of the elite, and the performance of some other corners you can’t put him above those others.

          • J Will

            Maybe it was the drop who knows. But here’s what I’m saying. I’m not sure you watched the game but Odell went BATCHIT crazy. They don’t even show you everything. At one point he wasn’t even running routes! He’s dropped a ball before, but he’s never had THAT reaction. As you say Trash talk is ALSO a part of the game. So Ceteris Paribus what is the difference, Josh Norman.

            Comparisons are tricky, which is why I tend to not fall into the trap of Norman vs Peterson. Norman vs Sherman is a more realistic comparison because both guys did the same job for some time. Remember, it wasn’t all that long ago that Sherman (who just got beat for a go ahead touchdown yesterday) had the same knock on him. “He doesn’t follow the best guy”. There is some truth to that but Sherman is still ONE OF the best imo. Not many people if anybody does what he does better. Same can be said for Norman.

          • Anonymous

            I saw the game. He did go crazy, I’m just saying it’s just as possible it had nothing to do with Norman.

            Again, we’re talking about 4 of the best corners in the game so I’m not trying to take anything away from Norman. I just don’t see how this article’s title can Norman is “the closest thing to the NFL’s shut down corner back” when there are others who perform just as well as him (Sherman in a similar scheme to his, Revis and Peterson in a man-to-man scheme)

          • J Will

            Its all hypothetical. I mean even Odell probably doesn’t completely understand why he went crazy. All I know is this. If you have a container of liquid, and you do this.
            1. Add one drop of blue stuff…nothing happens
            2. Add one drop of yellow stuff…nothing happens
            3. Add one drop of purple stuff…KABOOOMMMMMM!!

            I don’t care what the scientist say, its the purple stuff that did it.

            I’ll say this about you picking apart Normans status among the elite. You can’t put Sherman in there and not have Norman in the conversation. I’m pretty sure you could plug Norman in that Seattle Defense and not have a significant dropoff and vice versa.

            So if you’re gonna say, “Yeah But” for Norman, you gotta say “Yeah But” for Sherman too.

    • gayle

      how can it be a 52yd td if it was dropped?

  • Bob

    Patrick Peterson.

    • Watt

      Patrick Peterson dont have to face Julio Jones, Brandon Cooks, and Mike Evans twice a year like Norman. Also Ted Ginn owns Revis. And Steve Smith played Peterso lol

      • Bob

        He faced Cooks who had 28 yards and Smith who had 40, how is that destroying? I have no bias against Norman but he’s probably been the most overrated corner this year

  • Gene Howard

    Eh. You sound a bit like a Panthers fan. Slight flaw in your assertion that because Julio wasn’t “targeted” more against Norman that kudos go to Norman. It might be that those were plays where Julio simply wasn’t at the top of the QB’s progression & Ryan decided to go with one of the early reads in which our RB, TE, or WR had gotten open. Julio not having the ball thrown to him doesn’t automatically equate to good coverage by Norman. There’s simply no way to quantify “good coverage” on those plays without looking at the tape. It’s a case where numbers don’t necessarily tell the story. Now, I know there’s an obsession with using match-ups against Julio to make the argument for [insert your favorite CB] these days, but can we at least wait until Norman has another even HALF season like this before we start declaring him upper echelon?

    • Jaqziyrrey

      Right ask the way . lol upper echelon T.I. ATLANTA BABY.

  • James

    Norman is the best cornerback in the league and even against Julio held his own. Julio had the upper hand last game but two weeks ago if we remember correctly it was a very different story.

    • Jaqziyrrey

      So if Norman was so great as u claim he would have done it again wtf couldn’t stop Julio he was chasing from behind to try n tackle him but he had Like do that for him so don’t start Norman knew he had an off game because he gave Julio his credit he said” Julio is one of the best for a reason.


      Explains why Carolina got blown up in the Superbowl.

  • Dwayne Davis

    OK so he had bad game’s he still did better then every cornerback in the league against those hof recievers

  • mosquito killer

    Norman runs a 4.66 40. He’s routinely physically over matched, getting protected by the scheme.