The Carolina Panthers defense heads into the the NFC Championship Game riding high, led by the best linebacker in the NFL, and cornerback Josh Norman. Daniel Syed breaks down Norman’s amazing field awareness which led to a sack of the Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.
With 1:51 left in the 3rd quarter of the Divisional Round, Panthers cornerback Josh Norman came up with a huge sack of Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. Norman didn’t sack Wilson on a blitz but, rather, actually had Cover 2 responsibility on the play. Yet the cornerback showed great field and route awareness, vacating his zone and making a play on Wilson.
Seattle came out in an empty formation with three receivers left and two on the right. Norman is deployed on the right, responsible for the short/flat area to that side. At the snap, Marshawn Lynch (#24) runs a drag route while Doug Baldwin (#89) runs a seam route:
At first, Norman attacks downhill toward the drag route. However, with Lynch leaving his zone and no one coming towards his area of responsibility, Norman spots Wilson attempting to leave the pocket. Instead of “covering grass,” Norman voids the zone and goes after the quarterback:
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Wilson, of course, is elite at buying time with his feet and loves to get outside the pocket. Norman prevents this with his instincts and speed. Norman takes a calculated risk, pursuing the sack. However, he can see that nobody is in his zone. Norman gambles the Baldwin is not running a corner or deep out route instead of a seam. Had he guessed wrong, the corner would have been completely out of position, leaving the defense vulnerable to a big gain.
Norman appears to have reacted instinctively based on his film study of Seattle’s route combination tendencies, or perhaps something that happened earlier in the game. Norman’s all-pro play this season has earned him the freedom and discretion from the coaching staff to abandon responsibilities to make the big play in certain situations, and it paid off here.
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Daniel Syed is a lawyer and coach, who enjoys breaking down X’s and O’s. He has written about passing concepts for the ITP Glossary, Hail Mary attempts, and making adjustments at the line.
All video and images courtesy NFL Game Pass.