LANDOVER, Md. – As you would imagine, Washington cornerbacks Bashaud Breeland and Josh Norman weren’t in great moods following Sunday’s 27-23 loss against Dallas game.
Breeland had spent the entire week at the center of a national debate after Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown basically torched him in the season opener. Pundits left and right wondered aloud why Breeland drew the assignment and not Norman, Washington’s $75 million corner. Defensive coordinator Joe Barry offered a simple rationale for using a right-left system opposed to a star-on-star alignment: He said flip-flopping would make life difficult for the other 10 defenders.
The defensive strategy remained intact as the Cowboys came to town … until late in the game. That’s when Norman started matching up with Dez Bryant – who finished the day with seven receptions for 102 yards – and Breeland went to the opposite side.
“I felt like I played pretty good to that point,” Breeland said. “We started switching in the fourth quarter. We never practiced it before as far as I’m concerned. But it’s easy for me. I can play all sides and the slot, too. I don’t have a preference. It’s just football.”
He answered every question and said all the right things, exhibiting the same admirable professionalism he displayed following Brown’s monster outing. But you know he’s not thrilled about being relegated to No. 2 cornerback just four days after Barry praised his coverage against Pittsburgh (results notwithstanding).
The emotion of the loss and the demotion in midstream left a bad taste in his mouth.
Norman was stewing for a different reason.
He was decompressing at his locker when a team official approached, whispered in his ear and led him out of the room. Norman’s slightly raised voice was heard and he came back to his stall, trailed by the official. After pleading in the player’s ear to no avail, he left in resignation.
“I don’t like how the NFL has us drug test right after the game,” Norman said, obviously upset and frustrated but maintaining his composure. “I don’t understand that. It’s crazy. I don’t have anything left in the tank, yet they want you to drug test. I don’t get it. Shoot, we can’t tomorrow? What’s a day going to do?”
I don’t know how 24 hours might affect an athlete’s urine sample. But the last 15 minutes against Dallas might have a major effect on Washington’s coverage schemes moving forward.
The 0-2 road only gets harder from here. The New York Giants’ Odell Beckham Jr. is next on the list of star wideouts licking their lips while watching film. Norman and Beckham engaged in an epic battle last season, marred by five personal foul penalties, as the two matched up on virtually every play.
Prospects for another man-to-man tussle were dim based on Barry’s professed aversion to such tactics. But now, after Norman got in Bryant’s face for the fourth quarter, it appears the old strategy is optional.
Norman was still processing the loss and requested drug test as he spoke to reporters. On the subject of matching up, he did an exceptional job of walking the line between expressing his competitiveness and following orders.
“I just do what I’m asked to do,” he said. “I don’t want to break ranks. If the team asks me to pick up the trash, that’s what I’m going to do. They’re the ones signing my paycheck.”
That’s exactly what he’s supposed to say, at least publicly. If he clamored to be pitted exclusively against opponents’ No. 1 receiver, Norman would come off like a selfish player who lacks confidence in his teammate Breeland.
But you know he would relish drawing the toughest assignment each week, an opportunity to prove himself and validate his paycheck. He respectfully declined to state a preference throughout his interview session until his true feelings came out at the very end.
“My ego reeks, he said. “It stinks. On the football field I don’t believe I’m touched by nothing but God and what He allows me to do. Every time I set foot on the field I feel like I’m the best athlete out there. If you don’t, what are you doing here?
The other guys get paid, too, and so far, they’ve been pretty good. Rookie QB Dak Prescott passed for 292 yards after Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger put up 300 passing yards.
Washington’s secondary is wears a big bullseye, which merely complements the run defense’s “Welcome” sign.
Breeland has been a marked man for two games. Norman might not be far behind if Washington employs a new strategy.
Here’s hoping they at least practice the new concept next time before breaking it out in a game.