When Cincinnati and Washington face off in London, it will be the first time that A.J. Green and Josh Norman have gone head to head.
Green, who is once again among the NFL’s best receivers, didn’t get to face Norman when the latter was still with the Panthers in 2014. That was the first time the Panthers and Bengals faced off in a regular-season game since Green was drafted fourth overall in the 2011 NFL Draft.
Norman went 143rd overall out of Coastal Carolina in the 2012 draft. Both players were inactive due to injuries when Cincinnati faced Carolina in 2014, which was the only chance the two All-Pros could have faced each other.
Injury may once again prevent the matchup from happening this year thanks to Norman’s concussion, which he suffered during Washington’s Week 7 loss to Detroit.
“Any time your best player is not going to go, it is a concern, but when he does go, you have a comfort level,” head coach Jay Gruden told ESPN. “That’s why we signed him, for guys like A.J. Green.”
But Norman has made great progress this week in the NFL’s concussion protocol, enough that he made the trip to London and may very well face Green on Sunday. If that comes to pass, it will be arguably the best one-on-one matchup any NFL game in Week 7.
“I’m feeling good, I really am,” Norman said. “I want to go on this trip not so much because it’s London, but because I get to see a top-five receiver, a top-three receiver. I definitely look forward to this matchup on the pitch. He’s a formidable talent and he’s definitely the top in the league at that category. Top of his class. I can’t say enough about how good that looks to me.”
Sunday’s matchup will not feature Norman vs Green on every play though. The Bengals like to move Green all around the offense and get him matchups with every corner a defense has, not just one guy.
Norman does not typically travel around the defense much to stick to just one receiver. Many elite corners would be tasked with covering a team’s best receiver, no matter where said receiver lines up, so it will be interesting to see if Washington does anything different with Norman to keep him on Green. In the Redskins’ Week 1 matchup with the Steelers, we saw normal didn’t trail Antonio Brown, which led to Brown having a massive day.
Regardless, Green and Norman will get plenty of cracks at each other on Sunday if the latter is healthy and active. It’s something Norman is looking forward to, being that he’s an top corner who loves facing top receivers.
“I’ve faced everything,” Norman said. “You get those short receivers like A.B. (Antonio Brown) and Odell (Beckham Jr.). They chop you up and then you get the big monsters in here -- Pryor and other guys and now A.J. coming in.
“It’s a bit of a change-up. You’ve got to change your game up. You can’t play big guys like you do short guys. You’ve got to dig deep and let him come to you -- and be physical and don’t get posted up. That’s what he wants to do, post you up and box you out. You can’t let it happen. He’s a big guy. He’s a phenomenal talent.”
Norman was able to practice on a limited basis on Thursday and Friday while being cleared to make the trip to London. It’s looking like he’ll be a gametime decision, but if he is out, expect Green to run wild on Washington.
That’s been critical to the Bengals winning games this season. With few other consistent receiving options, Green has either carried the passing game, or watched it falter if he struggled to make a big impact.
In Cincinnati’s three wins this season, Green has topped 100 yards, but in the four losses, he failed to top 88 yards. If Norman is out on Sunday, topping 88 yards seems like a given with Green, and so too would a Bengals victory.