GREEN BAY – Washington cornerback Josh Norman doesn’t believe Aaron Rodgers has lost any of his magic touch.
“Let’s not get things mistaken over there. That’s No. 12. That’s pretty much Gandalf the White over there. That’s a wizard,” Norman said of the Packers quarterback, referring to The Lord of the Rings character. “That’s who he is to me.”
In an entertaining and energetic conference call Wednesday with Green Bay media, Norman stayed on the J.R.R. Tolkien theme and called New England’s Tom Brady Gandalf the Grey.
All kidding aside, Norman’s message was that the Redskins aren’t looking at the Packers’ struggles or Rodgers’ hot and cold spells as any indication of the opponent they’ll be facing Sunday night at FedEx Field.
They’re expecting the Packers’ best, knowing it starts with Rodgers.
“That guy can hit you for anytime, any place, anywhere, any given day. Any given game,” said Norman, Washington’s prized free-agent addition on defense this past offseason.
“I really don’t care what the outside noise is. I know who we’re facing, and that’s a cerebral quarterback who’s the best of the best at what he’s doing, regardless of what others may think of him.”
One weapon that appeared to return to the Packers’ arsenal last week was the back-shoulder throw, a tough maneuver for any corner to defend. Norman admits there are no secrets against it because when the timing between the quarterback and receiver is in sync, there’s not much a corner can do.
His approach is to make the opponents change up the timing so they can’t keep attacking the same way.
“You have to do a lot of different things. You can’t show the same looks,” he said. “Those back-shoulders, man, shoot, you defend them or you can’t. You just have to be in good position, and if they get one, you tip your hat to them, and just come back and get the next one.”
Washington head coach Jay Gruden loves the energy and passion Norman has brought to his defense, which also features two pass-rushers in Ryan Kerrigan and Trent Murphy on pace for double-digit sacks this season.
Gruden also has built an offense with a large stable of perimeter threats for QB Kirk Cousins. Six players have caught 26 or more passes this season, and five of them have 382 yards or more.
The group is a mixture of speed (with receivers Jamison Crowder and DeSean Jackson), experience (Pierre Garcon), tough tight end matchups (Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis) and a multi-threat running back (Chris Thompson).
“I just go where my reads take me,” said Cousins, who was on the conference call briefly. “If it means one guy gets a bunch of catches, or the ball gets spread around evenly, then so be it.”
That’s what Gruden likes to hear.
“I think it’s important to get everybody involved,” he said. “When everybody feels like they’re part of a play, part of a concept, you get more out of them, and they’re all running it like it’s their play. So it’s very important for them to feel that way.
“There might be certain players that want the ball more often, but I want Kirk to continue to distribute the ball to our playmakers, because we have a lot. We have a lot of guys who are deserving of the football. If the coverage dictates who’s going to get the ball, not the quarterback predetermining, we’re going to be way better off in the long run.”
Green Bay’s playoff victory at Washington last January isn’t much of a topic of discussion for the Redskins this week, according to both Norman and Gruden.
They’re more focused on staying on their current path, having gone 5-1-1 since an 0-2 start, yet they remain one loss out of last place in a super-competitive NFC East that is a collective 13 games over .500.
“It’s a tough division, it really is,” Gruden said. “In order to keep pace, we have to figure out ways to try to win games.
“We’re 5-3-1 in third place. If you had asked me before the season if we’re 5-3-1 after nine games would we be in third place, I’d have probably said, ‘Hell no,’ but it is what it is.”