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Why CB Josh Norman and his 'dark place' will win battle vs. Julio Jones

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Ad Pro Test Clip 178 - March 2017 (1:32)

Ad Pro Test Clip 178 - March 2017 (1:32)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera chuckled on Thursday when asked about the “dark place’’ cornerback Josh Norman goes to for big matchups.

“It has its moments,’’ he said. “It’s interesting. There’s something about him, the way he thinks and looks at things, that’s the alter ego he has in terms of person versus football player.

“His meek mild-mannered side, and then the ‘Dark Knight,’ as he likes to call it. He did reference himself as Bruce Wayne.’’

Norman loves “Batman.’’ He also loves challenges that require him to go to the “dark place’’ he referred to after his Thanksgiving Day game against Dallas’ Dez Bryant.

Norman has a big matchup on Sunday against Atlanta wide receiver Julio Jones, who leads the NFL with 102 catches for 1,338 yards.

Norman doesn’t expect Jones to call him out as he claimed Bryant did a few weeks ago. They have a mutual respect for each other.

“Man, I’m dog excited,’’ Norman said of facing Jones. “That’s a football-playing Jesse.’’

Here are four reasons Norman will win this battle:

He’s already done it

Norman held Jones to a combined 10 catches for 117 yards in two games last season. I say held because Jones averaged 6.9 catches and 106.2 yards a game last season. Norman has been one of the top cover corners in the league this season. Bryant had only one catch for 6 yards when he was matched against Norman.

Atlanta’s offense

The Falcons have struggled to put big points on the board since a 5-0 start, averaging 19.7 points over the last seven games. Jones hasn’t scored a touchdown in four straight games and has only two in the last nine. He may be averaging 13.1 targets a game, but he’s only averaging 8.5 catches. You’d expect a higher percentage from the top receiver in the league. You’d also expect more touchdowns.

Pass rush

This isn’t all about Norman and Jones. The Panthers are tied for third in the NFL with 35 sacks. They bring pressure from all over with 15 players having at least one sack. They are getting defensive end Mario Addison, who has 4.5 sacks, back after missing last week’s game. They have sacked Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan a combined 17 times the last three times they’ve faced him. Norman won’t have to stay on Jones long if that trend continues.

Ball control

Carolina’s offense is playing at a high level, controlling the ball an average of 36:38 minutes in the last three games. Atlanta is averaging 27:32 during that span, and it will be facing the league’s third-ranked defense. Jones simply will have fewer opportunities than normal.