In a city where left and right typically are debated in a far different context, one of the big topics in D.C. since Monday has been the placement of $15 million-per-year cornerback Josh Norman.
Coach Jay Gruden has suggested that Norman possibly won’t stay in one place, a la Richard Sherman in Seattle. On Thursday, defensive coordinator Joe Barry explained the value of sticking with Norman on one side of the formation.
“It’s easy for the guy that’s [moving],” Barry told reporters. “It’s hard for the other 10 guys to get lined up. I shouldn’t say 10 guys; it’s hard for the other three or four DBs to get lined up. If you are coming to cover me, that’s easy. But him, him and him, I could go anywhere. I could line up at X, I could line up at Z, I could line up at Y, I could line up in the backfield, I could line up anywhere. Now if I always told you that I was lining up right here, that’d be simple. You guys could play off of me, but if you don’t know where I am going to align, then these guys really have no clue. It’s easy for you to get lined up but the other guys, it’s difficult and that’s why most of the time, people get talked out of it, especially with offenses that move their guy around. And they do a really phenomenal job because people try to do that and they make it difficult just because of all of the different places that he aligns. It is hard for the other guys to get lined up in a timely matter, especially in a no-huddle offense with the tempo.”
The explanation makes sense on the surface, but plenty of defenses have figured out how to match the top wideout with the top corner, wherever he may go. It makes it harder to play zone coverage. But why would anyone primarily play zone coverage with a $15 million-per-year corner, anyway?
Keeping a Norman or a Sherman on one side can work if the player has help around him. In the first game of the 2014 season, the Packers decided to concede the right side of the offensive formation to Sherman, focusing on throwing the ball away from where he aligns. But the Seahawks had (and still have) the firepower elsewhere to shut an offense down — as Green Bay learned.
Washington currently doesn’t. The coaching staff thought it did, with Bashaud Breeland across from Norman. Barry joined Gruden in a sort-of passive-aggressive we-thought-he-would-be-great-sorry-he-wasn’t assessment of Breeland’s play.
“He had a rock solid camp,” Barry said. “I mean, he had a rock solid offseason. What he portrayed for us outside in OTAs and we went down to Richmond, we came back from training camp saying he’s playing A-plus ball right now. And again, number one at corner, you have to win the one-on-one and it is very simple. You could be in great position, you could be in great coverage, you either (A) make the play or (B) you don’t. And he did not make the play, but he had pretty darn good coverage. He had pretty darn good position. Again, it was just a guy making a play and he didn’t make it. So from a confidence standpoint, I still have confidence in him.”
All that said, will Barry concede they should have defended the Steelers and Antonio Brown differently? Um, no.
“I felt really good — and I still do — with the plan that we had,” Barry said. “I would have been a little bit more concerned maybe if we got burned or there was some incredible kind of separation, but it was good solid coverage against a great wideout and he made a play and we didn’t. And our plan, we felt comfortable with our plan because we thought a number of our corners had a great offseason. We thought that a number of our corners had a great training camp, so we were confident in our plan and we were confident with Josh or Bree covering him, we really were. And I am still very confident in Josh and Bree, 100 percent.”
It remains to be seen if that confidence results in Norman and Breeland staying put, or if Norman draws the assignment of covering Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant, with the rest of the secondary being asked to handle the apparently challenging duties before the snap — but not nearly as challenging after it — of not covering Bryant.