As many surmised might be a possibility, the newly available cornerback Josh Norman reunited with his former defensive coordinator Sean McDermott. As astute Buffalo Rumblings readers have probably noticed by now, that’s the current head coach of our beloved Buffalo Bills. In reference to a couple down years, accusations of “lost a step” have been met by counters of “misused” when discussing Josh Norman. Let’s take a look*.
One of the more important elements to bring with you if you want to fit into Sean McDermott’s Buffalo Nickel defense (yes I’m making this a thing) is football intelligence. This is often closely associated with the ability to read and react. At the pause, Josh Norman is starting to drive toward the receiver who will end up with the ball as Carson Wentz winds up. This rapid diagnosis allows him to stop the play cold.
To show the last play wasn’t a fluke, here is Norman again reacting perfectly to what’s happening. Making this even more impressive, he seems to be aware that a head-on collision with the lead block won’t favor his 200-lb frame. He uses a cut block that not only wipes out the blocker, but disrupts the ball carrier.
Washington had Josh Norman play quite a bit of man coverage. Norman sometimes struggled going stride for stride in a foot race and this is one way he would attempt to cheat the route a bit. To his credit, this play and several others showed good timing with the snap. However, the hip turn takes him out of position to stay with the receiver if the route headed toward the sideline. It does and you can clearly see the result. Regular readers know how much I love a good backpedal. The good news is that Josh Norman has this in his toolkit as well—which would help on plays such as this one.
The change of direction in the last play fell short, but body positioning made the turn nearly impossible to pull off. This play takes a look at a little more straightforward cut. Josh Norman’s narrative the last couple seasons has consistently been “lost a step.” While that’s not something I’m arguing against exactly, he’s not devoid of athleticism. He’s pretty much right where he wants to be on this play.
Josh Norman allowed some long touchdowns last season and it was off of plays not too dissimilar from this one. His man gets a step and a well-thrown pass would beat this coverage. Norman is in the right area, but just far enough behind to where it becomes problematic.
The cushion Josh Norman leaves allows him to have good coverage on his primary assignment and keep his eyes on the quarterback. Norman consistently looked better when he could see the play in front of him, which does bode well coming into McDermott’s defense. Norman breaks off when he sees where the ball is heading and potentially saves a touchdown.
Devin Singletary has to slow down for this pass that should have caught him in the back of the end zone. That’s important because he has a good deal of space as it is. If he hadn’t slowed down he’d have been wide open. This play is selected for reasons aside from the fact that Josh Norman wasn’t fast enough to make the play.
An important thing to note is that Josh Norman needed to play catch up, which is no easy task. Part of the reason is that Norman has to wade through his own teammates to cross the formation. It’s hard to pinpoint the exact fault but it was common for Washington to look like an assembly of players in the same uniform rather than a team.
While reviewing film, I definitely got the impression that Josh Norman’s best days athletically are in the rear view. However, I didn’t get the impression that he was abysmal either. His ability to read and react often disguised any athletic shortcomings, which is a huge positive for the Bills’ defense. Complicating the assessment further, Washington struggled on defense. A lack of support did seem to lead to a fair number of negative plays.
Make no mistake, this signing is a gamble. It’s not a far cry to think Josh Norman could rebound in Western New York. A Buffalo defense that will allow Norman to remain on his island and keep the play in front of him could be exactly what he needs to get back on track.
*Due to a couple injuries and an illness that plagued Josh Norman from midseason until the end of the regular season, I elected to focus on the first six games of the year to ensure we were seeing the healthiest version of the player that signed in Buffalo.