ASHBURN, Va. -- The Washington Redskins were reluctant to make the switch early last season, until success and perhaps a little pressure changed their minds. So they started to let corner Josh Norman shadow the opposition’s best receiver.
There won’t be any hesitancy to use that tactic this season, but it doesn’t mean they always will.
"It's hard for them to travel at times, but will we do that? Yeah,” Redskins defensive coordinator Greg Manusky said.
The Redskins were criticized for not letting Norman shadow Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown in a season-opening loss. Brown caught eight passes for 126 yards and two touchdowns. Norman rarely covered him.
But coaches from other teams suggested the real problem was not double-teaming Brown when Norman wasn’t on him. On one touchdown pass to Brown against corner Bashaud Breeland, safety help never came close to arriving. Other times there was no help against one of the NFL’s top receivers.
The next week against Dallas, Norman did not go with receiver Dez Bryant at all times until the fourth quarter. After this game, the Redskins often used Norman on the opposition’s best receiver -- sometimes they’d play man and other times used zone.
In the NFC East alone, the Redskins face top receivers such as Odell Beckham (New York), Bryant (Dallas) and Alshon Jeffery (Philadelphia). Norman traveled with all three in various games last season and has made his opinion of the first two loudly known -- again -- this offseason. Norman also was clear last season that he wanted these assignments.
But one reason former Redskins coordinator Joe Barry didn’t want to have Norman shadow one receiver? It could lead to confusion on assignments by other defensive backs. Manusky focused more on comfort level.
“Some guys always play on the right side or on the left side,” Manusky said. “They feel comfortable, and then all of the sudden, if you take that guy -- certain players -- and move them to the other side, it’s kind of foreign for them. From my standpoint, even from a linebacker’s perspective, I’d rather have been on the right than on the left.”
Not every corner can, or should, cover the other team’s top target. But the Redskins are fortunate that this season most of the receivers they face play a style that suits Norman. In other words: They’re not small and fast.
Still, that’s why, depending on the matchups, one corner might cover a certain receiver -- but with a twist.
“Sometimes you want to put that better player maybe on their lesser player and try to double the other guy,” Manusky said.
The Redskins’ philosophy was clear on this topic entering last season, until they were forced to change. Their new philosophy will continue this season.