ASHBURN, Va. -- The Washington Redskins didn’t want to see more big plays. So they returned to a strategy employed a couple of years ago: Cornerback Josh Norman started lining up on the same side as New York Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr.
When they did this two years ago, it started a season-long trend. This time it might have been a one-game deal -- unless they face another situation similar to Sunday. Considering the Redskins will face Atlanta’s Julio Jones on Sunday -- as well as Calvin Ridley and Mohamed Sanu -- it could happen again. After all, he’s familiar with Jones from his days facing him twice a year with Carolina.
And any game in which he travels to cover a particular receiver is fine with him.
“What am I here for?” Norman said in the locker room after Sunday's victory over New York. “That’s what gets me going. I sit over there on the left side just picking daisies, not doing anything. I like being involved.”
There’s some confusion as to who made the call to switch Sunday, partly because there were several conversations about it on the sidelines.
“That’s what we needed and that’s what got it done,” Norman said. “It was our decision. The DBs' decision. Nobody else’s.”
Redskins head coach Jay Gruden had a different take.
“It was discussed,” Gruden said. “It wasn’t Josh’s decision. Josh will not make any decisions. He might make a recommendation. I don’t know who recommended it. I know I recommended it to the defensive staff.”
Regardless, it was the right move and it shut down the big plays. The move occurred shortly after Beckham beat rookie corner Greg Stroman on a third-and-17 in the first quarter for a 44-yard gain. Norman started switching sides, though not always covering Beckham. Late in the second quarter, he worked mostly on the same side.
When Beckham was in the slot, Fabian Moreau would cover him, with Norman playing on the outside. But when Beckham was outside, Norman would be across from him, whether in man or zone.
Part of the problem Sunday stemmed from cornerback Quinton Dunbar’s absence. He missed his second consecutive game with nerve damage in his right leg. Dunbar said Monday that the damage was to his hamstring; he also had been kicked in the shin in practice the week he got hurt. Dunbar and Gruden both expressed optimism that Dunbar might return this week. But on Sunday, his absence left the inexperienced Stroman facing the dangerous Beckham.
In the first half, Beckham caught four passes for 80 yards. He finished with eight for 136. But from halftime until late in the fourth quarter, he was limited to one catch for minus-2 yards. The rest of his yards, including 15 on a leaping, one-handed grab over the middle, occurred after the Redskins had taken a double-digit lead.
Norman clearly enjoys moving around on defense.
“Yeah, they stay away from that side, but you want that problem,” Norman said. “You want to go where all the commotion is. Why would I want to run from it? Why would I stay there when I have bullets flying on the other side? Let me shoot some, too. Let me get in the fire and let me get in the action.”
The Redskins' big problem with this strategy has been trying to limit mistakes by others that could happen if one cornerback is always switching sides. Depending on the coverage call, it changes the corner’s run responsibility and coverage area.
“It depends on the coverage and situation,” Gruden said. “If you play a lot of single-high [safeties], it’s easy to do. Two high safeties, it really doesn’t matter which way because you’ve got a safety over the top. When you put guys in the slot and it’s hard to find, then you’ve got to play off him in nickel and go here. If he goes outside, you go over here. It becomes more difficult.
“It’s not always a great answer, but it’s always something we can do.”
The Redskins made Norman the highest-paid corner in the NFL in the 2016 offseason. He has played well for Washington, but he hasn’t made the same game-changing plays he did in Carolina when, in 2015, he intercepted four passes and scored two touchdowns. But alternating sides allows him to showcase more of what he can do.
“No question he’s here for that reason,” Gruden said. “We have the ability to do that if need be. It was a need situation and he played very well.”
Gruden said he doesn't mind when veterans want to discuss adjustments.
"I don't like demands," Gruden said. "I like discussions."
Norman might want more such discussions Sunday. In two games vs. Jones in 2015, he held the Falcons star to a combined nine catches for 113 yards.
“You gonna beat me,” Norman said, “you have to go through me.”