Next Gen Stats: Norman didn't shut down Beckham

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To the eternal gratitude of pure football fans, Next Gen Stats lack the capability to provide hot takes on the Week 15 antics that led to Odell Beckham's one-game suspension.

What Next Gen Stats can tell us, though, is that the notion of Josh Norman shutting the Giants' No. 1 receiver down is pure hogwash.

There was no clear victor in this over-hyped matchup.

Fastest ball-carrier speeds of season
Player
Speed (MPH)
Team
22.60
ATL
22.60
ARI
22.44
CAR
22.30
PIT
22.15
KC
22.13
SF
22.13
BUF
22.11
JAX
22.05
ARI
22.01
PIT

Beckham caught four of six passes for 30 yards and the game-tying touchdown with Norman in coverage on 22 of Eli Manning's 47 pass plays, per Next Gen Stats.

Those numbers don't begin to tell the full story.

While Norman's superior physicality neutralized Beckham near the line of scrimmage, downfield routes were a different story.

Just over a minute into the game, Beckham beat Norman off the line and broke inside, gaining open space only to drop a potential 52-yard touchdown. Beckham had 2.5 yards of separation on Norman when the perfectly placed ball struck his hands.

A similar scenario played out early in the third quarter when Manning targeted Beckham on a 40-yard throw. Beckham gained 2.08 yards of separation by the time the ball left Manning's hand and a gaping 4.25 yards when the ball hit the ground on a misfire caused by Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson.

Beckham also beat Norman on a 10-yard sideline pass, only to drop a low pass from Manning.

In total, Beckham won enough routes versus Norman to leave roughly 100 yards and a touchdown on the field.

NFL Films senior producer Greg Cosell put it in even starker terms after meticulously reviewing the all-22 film.

"Norman did match up to Beckham, but they didn't play man coverage very often. And in fact, Beckham killed him," Cosell said this week on the Fantasy Guru Matchup Podcast. "I watched every play and I studied it hard because I knew it would be a topic of conversation. Beckham was beaten mentally. ... But physically, it's not even close. Norman can't cover Beckham."

Norman is a worthy Defensive Player of the Year candidate and should join Patrick Peterson as the first-team All-Pro cornerbacks this season. But he certainly didn't "shut down" Odell Beckham in the Panthers' shootout victory.

If anything, Beckham shut himself down for 57 minutes.

Here's what else we learned from Next Gen Stats in Week 15:

1. While that receiver-cornerback clash failed to produce a clear victor, the same cannot be said for the showdown between Steelers wideout Antonio Brown and Broncos corner Chris Harris in their own shootout at Heinz Field. Entering the game, Harris hadn't surrendered a touchdown since Week 12 of the 2013 season. It was realistic for the Broncos to believe the ultra-stingy Harris could hold his own versus Brown, while Aqib Talib concentrated on Martavis Bryant and Courtney Roby trailed Markus Wheaton. That wasn't the case. Harris battled, but Brown still burned him for 147 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 13 receptions and 15 targets in Harris' coverage.

Harris just earned his second straight Pro Bowl nod. He's one of the best in the business. Brown is on another level.

2. Sammy Watkins isn't quite at Brown's level, but he's trending in that direction. Watkins is fourth in receiving yards and third in receiving touchdowns over the past five weeks. Emerging as one of the NFL's most dangerous deep threats, Watkins reached 22.13 mph on his 48-yard bomb -- the second-fastest speed on a touchdown catch this season. The previous week against Philadelphia, Watkins had the fourth-highest speed (21.15 mph) on his first-quarter touchdown. As well as he's playing, it's understandable that he would be calling out underperforming teammates for not putting forth the same effort level.

3. The rebirth of Darren McFadden -- written off as washed-up prior to his age-28 season -- has been a bright spot in an otherwise dark Cowboys season. McFadden covered an efficient 3.27 yards per rushing yard gained versus the Jets, reaching a max speed of 21.27 mph on a 33-yard run. He now owns two of the five highest speeds at the position over the past two weeks. Even though McFadden didn't join the starting lineup until Halloween, Adrian Peterson is the only player in the league with more 100-yard rushing performances this season.

4. Cardinals rookie David Johnson was even more efficient in covering just 2.93 yards per scrimmage yard gained versus the Eagles. Johnson's total distance traveled of 671 yards was the most of any Week 15 running back, resulting in 229 yards from scrimmage. The tackle-breaking 47-yard touchdown run that channeled Marshawn Lynch's "Beast Mode" covered more distance (69.48 yards) and reached a higher speed (18.23 mph) than any of Johnson's 33 touches.

5. Speaking of total distance covered, Peter King wondered in his Monday Morning Quarterback column if Rams kick returner Benny Cunningham covered 135 yards on a 102-yard return versus the Bucs. King was awfully close. Per Next Gen Stats, Cunningham traveled 138.76 yards.

Similarly, Fan Duel's Will Carroll asked the actual distance run by Colts punt returner Quan Bray on a wild return that started on one sideline, ended on the other and gained just 19 net yards. The answer: 93.80 yards.

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