LANDOVER, Md. — Josh Norman is keeping up a brave face, the ultimate image of bravery, if his repeated military references following Sunday’s game are any indication. O
All of those things became a tangled, baffling, constantly-beatable mess in the first two winless weeks of the season, and the first two weeks of Norman’s career with the franchise. On deck next Sunday at the Meadowlands are the 2-0 New York Giants and Odell Beckham Jr. (and a pair of receivers who weren’t around last year to inflame a rivalry that flared up out of nowhere and consumed all the oxygen near it).
But first, Norman, who was destined to wear his $50 million guaranteed all season the moment he left the Panthers to come to Washington, has to endure the upcoming week of rehashing the disaster of their 0-2 start, and why he’s been used the way he has so far.
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“I don’t know. Ask the coach, don't ask me,’’ was his answer the first time it came up after the debacle against the Cowboys in FedEx Field. He might have been talking about either head coach Jay Gruden or defensive coordinator Joe Barry. “We’re soldiers on the field; go ask the field generals,” Norman added.
It’s fitting that Norman’s reference was unclear, because on Sunday, so was the way he was being used. A week after the world being baffled by Norman sticking to one side of the field instead of following Antonio Brown, and after the heated defenses of why the team did it, he started the same way against the Cowboys.
But eventually he was switched up to follow Dez Bryant more often in mid-stream, after Bryant started off hot against Bashaud Breeland just as Brown had done in Week 1.
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The results were that the coverage, and the defense overall, still stunk, but that Norman did well in a game plan that was flipped with no warning. So, for now, it’s anyone’s guess what they will do with Norman against the Giants and their season already on the brink.
Norman was clear when he was asked if there had been any discussion last week of changing coverage plans at any point against the Cowboys: “No.” And when asked if making the mid-game adjustment was difficult, he was just as blunt: “We did it anyway. It’s no big deal. I'm just as good on the right as I am on the left. (I) did it all last year, so — if you’ve been watching us (in Carolina) last year, you knew that.
“I’m just doing what’s called, doing what the coaches ask you. We’re soldiers. We’re in the army, we do what we’re asked to do, they're the commanders. They're in front of us for a reason. I don't want to break rank.’’
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Earlier, Gruden gave few specifics about Norman (who forced a crucial fourth-quarter Ezekiel Elliott fumble that the offense failed to fully capitalize on) and the continued sieve of a defense.
“I feel good about our corners,’’ he said. “We just have to get the defense fixed up. Too many guys were wide open.’’
Neither the Steelers nor Cowboys have as many receivers right now as the Giants, who now also have a healthy Victor Cruz and quick-adjusting rookie Sterling Shepard.
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As much as he’s both in the center of a growing disaster and bizarrely detached from it, Norman plans to strike some kind of balance with an early huge test looming. It leaves him trying to glean lessons from the negative and building on the scant positives.
“I'm fired up either way,’’ he insisted. “But I'm best when my back’s against the wall, crunch time. That’s when I elevate my play. I get excited about that, that’s what I take solace in.’’
His commanders’ backs are against the wall, too, though, and if they don’t respond better, Norman’s play might not change the results.