Aside from being just a lockdown cornerback, Josh Norman proved last Sunday that he can set a physical edge on run plays, adding another wrinkle to his game.
Being an elite cornerback can have its frustrations. Just ask Josh Norman.
The irony of his impressive body of work over the last couple of seasons is that quarterbacks rarely challenge his skills anymore. His abilities in coverage, and the opportunities he creates for himself to defend passes, are being tested in limited capacities.
"You never know when you're going to get your opportunities," Norman said. "They're so far and few in between, like literally. You get out there one day and you don't see a ball, you get out there another day and you may see two, get out there again and you don't see any. Like, for me it's always working up to my peak performance and then having a letdown [laughing], because I can't really go out there and put it on the field. But, I have to be ready for it."
In six of the team's eight games he's played in (missing time briefly with a rib injury), Norman hasn't recorded an interception and defended just five passes, a midseason stat line that doesn't exactly project to keep pace with the past couple of years. Not that it needs to. The more Norman isn't tested in the air, the more he's been willing to evolve his game to make an impact in other areas on defense.
"I try to find my way in and doing other things in other areas of the game by being physical, coming downhill at the point of the attack, coming back to a running back, take him down to the ground, whatever I can, come off the edge, come downfield and hit a gap," Norman said. "I mean that type of player that's trying to go out there and find a play rather than waiting on one to come to you."
That was quite evident Sunday against the Seahawks, particularly on a play late in the game. Midway through the fourth quarter, the Seahawks faced a third-and-1 as they drove down the field for a go-ahead score. Running back Thomas Rawls received a handoff from quarterback Russell Wilson, avoided a charging Terrell McClain and eluding a diving D.J. Swearinger before running into Norman.
Rawls attempted a stiff arm, but Norman, still peeved with one he received from tight end Jimmy Graham earlier in the game, had enough. He grabbed Rawls's arm and held on tightly, dragging him down just shy of the first down marker.
Check out these photos of the Redskins' defense and special teams preparing for their Week 10 game against the Minnesota Vikings Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2017, at the Inova Sports Performance Center at Redskins Park.
"I've been doing better at things, elevating my game in areas, and that's one of the areas: being a physical tackler, being smart and knowing that in certain situations in the game you have to come up and be big for your team," said Norman, giving credit to McClain and Swearinger for forcing Rawls outside.
"He put that arm out there, and I thought it was another facemask to the ground like Jimmy [Graham] did earlier, I just had a flashback. I just wanted to take that arm off with me...but then I got up and looked at the sideline and the first down and I was excited."
That play, while not talked about much with the hysteria at the end of the game, stuck out in head coach Jay Gruden's mind.
"His tackle on third-down-and-one, when he tackled the guy by the arm, not that many corners are going to do that – step up there and make that big of a tackle in that type of situation," Gruden said. "So I think as an all-around corner – coverage, tackling, leadership, effort, all that stuff – I think he's up there with the best."
Norman has 24 tackles so far this season as well as two forced fumbles, equaling his amount form last year. Developing that skill, like being more physical in the run game, is part of his evolution as player, he said, noting his desire to make plays and help the defense in any he can.
"Sometimes you have to die in a way in your body to come back and live again in another form and elevate yourself from your previous status," Norman said. "To me, I've always done the same thing, in a way, but every year I got better at something. It seems this year I got better at being a force on the edge when it comes to tackling...Last year I started to punch more than I ever did. I did in Carolina, but it was never to that type of magnitude. And then now, it's just kind of resonated with me, if I see it, I'm going to take it, if I don't I'm going to try to break my hand again like I did last year [laughs]. So, I'm taking more of a smarter risk to my rewards and I'm picking my issues and my target and I'm doing it in an efficient way."