Best against best. Chamberlain vs.Russell. Magic vs. Bird. Ali vs. Frazier. Gossage vs. Brett. Manning vs. Brady. The Phil Simms Giants vs. the Joe Montana 49ers. That's what sports is all about, it's those match-ups sports fans live for. We get one of those on Sunday when extraordinary New York Giants' wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. goes up against Carolina Panthers' cornerback Josh Norman.
Right now, both guys are the best in the business at what they do.
"We'll see what happens. But certainly I would think that that would be that match-up and so you're going to have a very, very good defender against a very, very good receiver," Giants head coach Tom Coughlin said on Wednesday.
Yes we are. Let's go in-depth on Beckham vs. Norman.
HT: 5-11 WT: 198
2014 first-round pick (12th overall)
Giants' fans don't really need the full list of Beckham's record-setting accomplishments. This might suffice:
Still, earlier this week we looked at the almost comical numbers Beckham has compiled. Here's a short list of the highlights:
- Most receptions in first two seasons (176)
- Third in receiving yards (2,625). Randy Moss is tops with 2,726
- His 24 touchdowns are five behind the all-time record of 29 set by Bill Groman
- Beckham has totaled 100+ yard receiving 15 times in his first 25 games, including six straight
"He really has an opportunity, I think, to be one of those guys you'll talk about. He and Jerry Rice," said Carolina coach Ron Rivera. "I've had the great fortune of watching Jerry Rice, and, man, I see a lot of flashes. I played against Jerry as well, and I see a lot of flashes in Odell's game, and I just think he's a tremendous football player."
HT: 6-0 WT: 203
2012 fifth-round draft pick (Carolina)
Norman wasn't even a full-time starter for the Panthers until this season. He played 37 games his first three years, starting only 22. What he has done this season is remarkable.
The Washington Post compiled a list of Newman's games this season against some of the league's best wide receivers:
- Week 1: Jaguars' Allen Hurns caught two passes for 14 yards. Allen Robinson was 0-for-3.
- Week 2: DeAndre Hopkins caught 2 of 7 targets for 24 yards.
- Week 3: Brandin Cooks went 2-for-3 for 23 yards with the third attempt an interception by Norman.
- Week 4: Mike Evans was targeted once but didn't make the catch. Vincent Jackson was 2-for-6 for 31 yards with a pass defensed and an interception.
- Week 7: Jordan Matthews, no attempts made.
- Week 8: T.Y Hilton went 1-for-3 for 15 yards.
- Week 12: Dez Bryant and backup quarterback Matt Cassel were 1-for-5 for six yards.
- Week 13: Brandin Cooks caught one pass for 19 yards.Week 14: Julio Jones caught 4 of 6 targets for 33 yards.
Here is another way to look at Norman's production:
Wow. Josh Norman has held DeAndre Hopkins, Mike Evans, TY Hilton, Dez Bryant, Julio Jones to combined 9 rec/89 yards (@nflnetwork research).— Andrew Siciliano (@AndrewSiciliano) December 16, 2015
None of these receivers are Odell Beckham, and none had Eli Manning throwing him the ball, but the stats are sobering for Giants fans.
Since we know you want to the Pro Football Focus numbers on Norman, here they are.
Norman has a +20.1 PFF grade, second-highest among cornerbacks. His +19.2 coverage grade is the best in the league. He has allowed 37 completions on 76 targets for 329 yards and one touchdown. Norman's 43.1 passer rating against is the best in the league.
A few Norman highlights:
"He's a very, very good cover guy. He's a technician, he gets himself in the right spot at the right time. He does play the ball in the air well. He's quick with his hands. He's physical. He'll time it up to be there as the ball arrives, either knock it out or position himself to make contact from behind and to ensure that the ball is not completed," Coughlin said. "He's having an outstanding year matched up against the opponent's best receiver the majority of the time, at least until he goes into the slot."
More to Norman's story
Norman struggled to establish himself with the Panthers during his first three seasons, being yanked in and out of the lineup. In his second season, 2013, he was often left inactive and played in only 13 games. Read about Norman's history and you realize he marches to the beat of his own drum. It wasn't until the Panthers stopped trying to reign him in and Rivera decided to "let Josh be Josh" during the middle of the 2014 season that his talents were unleashed:
"I had to try to conform to what they wanted, and it just wasn't working for me," he says. "I'm glad coach said that. [Otherwise] I don't think I would have been the player I am now. He let me be the player I wanted to be."
Rivera calls himself "The Dark Knight" and says he has a dark place he goes to during games:
"I'm not the same person that I am now," Norman said. "I'm totally different. A night and day comparison from what I am on and off the field."
Breaking it down
Here's what Sam Monson of Pro Football focus had to say about Beckham vs. Norman, via e-mail:
"OBJ's stats speak for themselves. Norman's allowed a passer rating of 43.1 (best in NFL), a comp % of 48.7% (T7th)and just 329 yards all season with 1 TD and an average of 8.9 yards per reception. Hasn't been beaten for a catch of more than 36 yards all season. OBJ has catches of 50+ yards in 5 games this season and one of 49 in a sixth, including both of his last two.
"Strength against strength. There hasn't been a better shutdown corner in the NFL this season than Josh Norman, and he has tracked receivers to erase some of the best in the NFL from the game. Beckham's production has been off the charts, but it would take a monster effort to get significant joy from Norman this season."
Using its Next Gen Stats feature, NFL.com also broke down the matchup.
Per Next Gen, while the Giants do use Beckham in the slot frequently, with 30 of his 85 catches from from the slot, 10 of Beckham's 12 touchdowns have come lined up wide. Norman will follow Beckham on the outside, but has not gone into the slot this season.
"We'll continue to move him [Beckham] around in multiple spots," Coughlin said.
Next Gen shows in great detail that Beckham also does much better when given space at the line of scrimmage, and that one of Norman's strengths is pressing receivers. Thus, critical to the match-up will be whether or not Beckham has space at the line and whether he is able to create some separation when Norman presses.
"I think he’s a special talent in this league,’’ Norman said Tuesday on "The Rich Eisen Show" on DirecTV’s Audience Network. "I think the stuff he’s able to do, he is very, very much skillful in what he brings to the table. He plays in a big city, and he gives ’em what they want, he gives the crowd what they want. He’s been flourishing there, so I have nothing but all nice and positive things to say and we’ll see what that looks like on Sunday.’’
Can Beckham and the Giants do what Dez Bryant, Julio Jones and others haven't been able to do this season -- have success against Norman? That will be critical to their hopes for an upset Sunday, and maybe to their playoff chances as well.