This Sunday, the New York Giants will host the unbeaten Carolina Panthers in a game that has major postseason implications. However, it will also feature what should arguably be the most highly anticipated individual matchup of the season — Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. against Panthers cornerback Josh Norman.
After taking the NFL by storm in his 2014 rookie season and winning the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year Award by a landslide, Beckham has followed that up with an almost equally dominant second season. Through 13 games, Beckham has 1,320 yards receiving and 12 touchdowns on 85 receptions. He is tied for the league lead in touchdowns with the eighth-most receptions and third-most receiving yards.
Norman has been equally as dominant on the defensive side of the ball. He has racked up the sixth-most pass breakups (20), the third-most interceptions (4) and the most defensive touchdowns (2) at the cornerback position. However, these stats don’t do Norman justice. A truly elite coverage cornerback is avoided by opposing quarterbacks.
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Fortunately, we have the game-charters over at Pro Football Focus to help us out — they have watched, charted and graded all of Norman’s snaps this season. His advanced stats are even more promising than the ones above. He has allowed just 37-of-76 targets against to turn into receptions for a 48.7 percent catch percentage against. Norman has allowed just 329 yards and one touchdown in primary coverage all season. Norman’s dominant season is best summed up by holding opposing quarterbacks to a 43.1 passer rating when targeting him — no cornerback has a lower passer rating against.
Beckham’s advanced stats are also impressive as well. Only two wide receivers in the NFL who have played at least 50 percent of their team’s snaps have a better drop rate. He has dropped just two out of 87 targets deemed "catchable", per Pro Football Focus. What makes this even more impressive is that Beckham’s aDOT (average depth of target) stands at 12.0 — considerably higher than the two receivers with a better drop rate.
The most exciting aspect of this matchup is that we are very likely to see the two players matched up for the majority of this game. While some cornerbacks play a specific side of the field, Norman will "shadow" a worthy No. 1 receiver on the outside. According to Pro Football Focus’ Mike Clay, Norman has shadowed six different receivers so far in 2015. Here’s a snapshot of how Norman has fared against some of the best receivers he’s faced this season:
Josh Norman has held DeAndre Hopkins, Mike Evans, TY Hilton, Dez Bryant, Julio Jones to combined 9 rec/89 yards (@nflnetwork research).
Norman has only lined up on one percent of his defensive snaps in the slot this season, while Beckham has lined up on 24 percent of his snaps in the slot. We will get a break in the action between these two when the Giants move Beckham into the slot. However, Beckham has done most of his damage this season on the outside, and it seems unlikely for the Giants to limit him to the slot role. As a result, you should expect to see the single best one-on-one matchup of the 2015 season this Sunday in New York.