Josh Norman-vs.-Odell Beckham 'spectacle' loses some focus

ASHBURN, Va. -- The fireworks existed in their earlier meetings, but an injury caused a one-year interruption. And now it’s back: New York Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. vs. Washington Redskins cornerback Josh Norman.

Except this time, it’s, well, relatively quiet.

“Let’s hope that will be the case, man,” Norman said.

Beckham, who broke his ankle and missed both games against the Redskins in the 2017 season, has bigger problems to worry about than just a matchup against Norman. The spotlight has been more on Beckham’s sideline passion, his happiness in New York and his thoughts on quarterback Eli Manning than any individual matchups. When a team is 1-6, there are many other issues.

For Norman, the focus on his one-on-one matchups has waned now that he’s in his third season with Washington. It’s not like 2016, his first season with the Redskins, when he was less than a year removed from his infamous battle with Beckham that resulted in five personal fouls -- three by Beckham, two by Norman. Beckham was later suspended for one game for his actions during the game against Carolina.

Last week, Norman said he didn’t miss having to face Dallas' Dez Bryant and all that came with it, knowing it often turned into a sideshow. There’s still always the chance Norman’s matchup vs. Beckham on Sunday will turn in a direction neither player wants. After all, both remain highly competitive and they will line up vs. each other on occasion.

In their most recent meeting -- in the 2016 season finale -- Norman head-butted Beckham to draw a penalty. He also was flagged for unnecessary roughness after shoving Beckham while out of bounds.

When Norman wore a Bobby Boucher jersey Sunday from the movie "Waterboy," some wondered if it was a subtle shot at Beckham and his distaste for water. Nope. It was just Norman paying homage to a movie's 20-year anniversary. Norman isn't looking for more than just a game.

“You go out and try to win the game,” Norman said. “That’s it. You seek and destroy whatever it is. Something always gets taken a little bit left and you have to go there sometimes. You don’t want to, but that’s how the game goes. At the end of the day it’s all mellow; it’s all quiet.”

It will be interesting to see how Washington defends Beckham. Quinton Dunbar, who starts opposite Norman, has nerve damage in his shin and there’s a good chance he won’t play Sunday. That means slot corner Fabian Moreau would play outside in their base defense and in the slot when in nickel. That’s when rookie Greg Stroman enters to play outside. He’s been beaten on a handful of occasions, often on double moves. In 2016 they had Norman cover Beckham wherever he lined up; they haven't done that with Norman and a receiver since the start of 2017.

In five games vs. Washington, Beckham has caught 40 passes for 529 yards and five scores. He missed both games last season.

“He has a great feel for the game,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “You can tell he's very aware of his surroundings -- man, zone, leverages. He's just a good route runner. Obviously when the ball is in the air, that's where his gift comes into play. He's like Gumby. He can catch it wherever the ball is, outside the framework of his body. He's unbelievable.”

The Redskins want to be physical with Beckham; if they’re not, he’ll get open. He’s adept at creating space off the line, especially when not jammed. Even on his routes, subtle stems create gaps when he cuts.

“Oh, explosive plays,” Norman said when discussing what stands out about Beckham. “He always wants the ball. You can see that. He’s a specimen. He creates a lot of things with what he does with his routes. Pretty crisp. You can tell out there he’s confident. He really is. I’m looking forward to it.”

The matchup has simmered enough that neither coach was asked directly about it so far this week.

Beckham’s media session was dominated by other topics, though he did refer to the matchup with Norman as: "there's no problems. Just compete against each other."

Even Norman’s main focus was what happened Sunday with Carolina’s Eric Reid and Philadelphia’s Malcolm Jenkins and the Players Coalition.

“I play the guy lined up in front of me and see what happens,” Norman said. “If it’s him or anyone else, I try to go after it. He’s been a good player in this league for a while. Each and every time we play each other, there’s something that everyone makes a spectacle out of. I don’t really see all that, but he we’ll see this time and the next time. So, yeah, write about it when it happens.”

-- ESPN Giants reporter Jordan Raanan contributed.