Earlier this season, the Panthers' Defense struggled mightily, causing many of us to wonder where all the monsters from Monsters, Inc. had gone. A resurgence was on the horizon, however, and no single player has been more important this resurgence than Josh Norman. He is now the one that is assigned to the other team’s #1 WR, and he’s doing a heck of a job. During the Panthers four-game winning streak, Norman has been asked to take on Josh Gordon, Mike Evans, and Julio Jones. He held the “manimal,” (as Norman referred to Jones) to a mere 58 yards on four receptions in the game that mattered most. He also held Josh Gordon to 48 yards and Mike Evans to 13. A guy to go toe-to-toe with the league's elite WRs is something that the Panthers haven’t had in a while, and it appears to be helping the Kraken-less front four by providing more time for them to get to the QB.
A Reversal of Roles
Last season’s 60-sack team helped our DBs be better than they were. Hardy, Johnson, Star, and Short got into the QBs face at amazing speeds last season. This meant the DBs did not have to hold coverage for very long. Monsters, Inc. (Hardy's nickname for the Panthers D-line) made our DBs look good. Relentless pressure from Carolina's front four helped earn Captain Munnerlyn and Mike Mitchell big pay-days in Minnesota and Pittsburgh.
Late this season, the retooled defensive backfield with Norman, Stiki Wiki, and Tre Boston (adding the veteran leadership of Roman Harper) has changed the dynamics of our defense. Watch that first sack from the Atlanta game and you will see Kony Ealy blow past Meg Ryan and have time to make his way back and get the sack; it was it truly was a coverage sack. I don’t think many of the sixty sacks last year would have been classified as coverage sacks. This improved play in the defensive backfield is transforming and re-energizing our team and could lead to a Giant-like run this year.
The Importance of Norman's Swagger
The Panthers resurgence on defense (and the entire team) is attributable to more than just the youth-injection as already described. Yes, the enhanced speed and the healthy return of the B’s (Benwikere and Boston) is key. However, an under-mentioned component is the controlled-swagger now being displayed by Josh Norman. Once known by fans as the “Pre-season All Pro,” and after spending much of the last two seasons in the Riverboat-doghouse,
Norman has shown that he can be the professional that it takes to be “the guy.” He is now the guy that takes on the No. 1 receiver. This season, he started ten games (missed time with a concussion) and has eleven passes defended, two interceptions, and one forced fumble. QBs to QBs have a completion percentage under 50% when throwing his way. Profootballfocus.com ranks him 27th among CBs. I bet he would rank in the top five if PFF showed a four-game ranking. Look for him to lock onto Larry Fitzgerald on Saturday to avoid a repeat performance from ‘08 from the future Hall of Famer.
I must point out that though he is now deemed reliable, he has not lost his swagger and perhaps a better way to say it is he has controlled his swagger. With Mike Mitchell, Greg Hardy, and Steve Smith off this team, the swag has to come from somewhere. Yes, Cam has the ultimate swag, but Norman is showing the fighting spirit and the what I call “pissed off for greatness” (to quote Ray Lewis) aspect to his personality that Panther fans love. He gets fired up on the field and is enjoying himself. He’s enjoying the game and brings a bravado that was missing earlier this season.
Making A Much Needed Statement
When the Panthers seemed to be down and out after their incredibly disappointing trip to Minnesota where the team seemed lifeless and perhaps thinking about off-season plans, one guy seemed to want to cause a change.
Take a look at this haircut as seen on BlackandReview.com:
and read Josh's tweet on what it means:
So What Does This All Mean?
Josh Norman is in year three of a four-year contract with the Panthers that paid him just over $2M. The Panthers would be wise to add him to the list of players they want to lock up in the off-season. I think I speak for all of Panther Nation when I say I want to see this Greenwood, SC native continue to display his controlled-swag in Carolina for many years to come. This defense will only be better with Norman Island continuing to grow. And keep an eye on this Norman lead resurgence, as it could very well help this team play for a few more weeks and just maybe all the way to through Arizona to Arizona. Ricky Bobby style: Fast!
Mel Mayock (@PanthersDrafter)