Washington unveiled its $15 million-per-year cornerback on Monday night by doing what few expected them to do: Not match him up primarily if not exclusively against the best receiver by far on the opposing team.
But that’s what happened with Josh Norman. He stayed on one side, like the Seahawks have done with cornerback Richard Sherman. And, like the Packers did two years ago in the opening game of the season, the Steelers opted not to challenge him on a regular basis with the best receiving threat they have.
Unlike the Seahawks, which otherwise had the talent in the secondary to combat a decision by Green Bay to ignore half the field, Washington didn’t. On Tuesday, coach Jay Gruden reiterated that the team thought it did.
“I think Bashed [Breeland], he’s a great competitor,” Gruden told reporters. “He really is. He’s made some great plays throughout training camp and last year he started to grow a lot. We felt like he was in a good position to be one of . . . a very good corner this year, and we still think that. He just got beat by a great player a couple times. I know there are some plays he wishes he had back. I think he was looking for the ball, trying to make plays on the ball when he should have just been studying Antonio and staying with Antonio. He lost sight of him a couple of times, lost track of the ball a couple times, and missed a couple tackles that he normally makes. It wasn’t his best performance, obviously, but he was going up against the best in the National Football League, one of the best. It was a good learning experience for him, but we’re not going to give up on him and I know he’s not going to give up on himself. He’s got great confidence and he’s still a great player in our book.”
It’s one thing to not give up on Breeland. It’s another to not make full use of a guy whose pockets owner Daniel Snyder stuffed full of cash. So will Norman be moved around to match the other team’s best receiver?
“It could be,” Gruden said. “The issue is you like to not show your hand in man-to-man all the time and so every time he travels, it’s man-to-man. Then you have issues with pick plays and all that stuff. That’s something that we can look at, but we still feel like Breeland can cover a lot of people in the league, man. He just had a couple rough plays and a couple unbelievable throws and catches by Ben [Roethlisberger] and Antonio, man. Hats off to them.”
It’s important not to lose sight of the fact that the Steelers deserve plenty of credit for playing well, in all areas of offense. But it’s impossible to know whether Washington would have had a better chance at slowing Pittsburgh down if they’d entrusted Norman to neutralize Brown, It is possible to wonder whether they should re-evaluate their position on the specific position Norman will play, especially with Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant coming to town on Sunday.