"I don't, I don't want to kill you! What would I do without you? Go back to ripping off mob dealers? No, no, NO! You, you complete me."
That quote is actually not from the critically acclaimed The Dark Knight, it was spoken by the boisterous cornerback for the Carolina Panthers, Josh Norman (slightly joking). Norman has quickly developed into one of the elite cornerbacks in the NFL four years removed from being a fifth round pick out of Coastal Carolina.
In the NFC South, rivalries have developed all across the division. The rivalry between the Panthers and the Atlanta Falcons has become a bit dull in recent seasons, but the rivalry between the uproarious Norman and stoic Julio Jones is explosive and entertaining.
Norman is an outspoken player in the league, while Jones keeps more of a low profile. The contrast between their personalities is almost as interesting as their battle on the gridiron. Norman seems to get the best of Julio Jones and unfortunately, he did again on Sunday in Charlotte. The film shows a fun battle between two of the elite players in the league.
What makes the Norman-Jones rivalry so interesting is the stark difference in their athletic profiles. Julio Jones is one of the most athletic receivers in the history of the NFL while Josh Norman would be considered an average to below average athlete at cornerback.
Here's a look at how they athletically compare courtesy of Mockdraftable.com.
One physical aspect for Norman that plays in his favor is his arm length. His advantage there helps mitigate his athletic limitations to a degree. Julio Jones is able to beat him with sheer athleticism from time to time, but Norman plays with tenacity and high level of control that allows him to match up well with the elite receivers in the league.
The film paints an entertaining picture of a battle between two of the league's best.
Here all of the targets when Julio Jones was matched up on Josh Norman, before the game got out of hand and Norman left the game in the third quarter.
Target #1: 1st Quarter, 3:57, 2nd and 8, Incomplete
Carolina had massive advantage in the secondary against the Falcons. Sean McDermott and Ron Rivera exploited this match up with ease by calling a lot of Cover One and blitz plays. On this play, the Panthers are running Cover One with Luke Kuechly patrolling the middle of the field.
Norman is shadowing Julio and he played perfect coverage. Despite Julio getting an inside release, Norman was able to dish out a decent press on him. From there Norman slipped into Julio's back hip and played the slant beautifully. He timed his attack on Julio's hands just as the ball arrived and knocked it away for a clean pass breakup.
Target #2: 2nd Quarter, 8:07, 1st and 10, 14 Yard Gain
Dating back to last season, Julio Jones has been able to get separation on Josh Norman on routes that allow him to exploit the athleticism difference between the two players.
Throughout his career, one of the Jones' biggest strengths has been his extraordinary agility and ability to stop on a dime. These shorter timing routes play to the strengths of Matt Ryan and the caliber of offensive line play. They also allow Jones to naturally gain separation from Norman as he bails deep in the Panthers Cover 2 Man defense.
Tally: 1/2, 14 Yards, 1 First Down
Target #3: 2nd Quarter, 5:34, 1st and 15, 5 Yard Gain
Again, Julio's quickness allows him to get just enough separation against Norman in the Panthers Cover 3 package. Norman plays him closer than the previous target, but Matt Ryan delivers the ball quick enough to complete the ball as Julio comes out of his break.
Tally: 2/3, 19 Yards, 1 First Down
Target #4: 3rd Quarter, 5:00, 3rd and 4, 6 Yard Gain
The Panthers brought the heat on this play, bringing six defenders with Kurt Coleman playing deep over the top of the defense and man coverage across the board. This was a nice play call by Kyle Shanahan to get the ball out quickly to Julio on yet another curl route. At this point in the game the Panthers were getting to Matt Ryan routinely which severely crippled the passing attack.
Tally: 3/4, 25 Yards, 2 First Downs
Target #5: 3rd Quarter, 1:32, 2nd and 7, Incomplete
Ryan was under pressure and heaved a prayer downfield hoping that Julio would be able to find the ball. The Panthers "Sugared the A Gaps" and sent five rushers while Thomas Davis dropped back in a zone.
The blocking was a mess, here's what Ryan was facing as he reached the second step of his three step drop. Chris Chester was already beat by Charles Johnson and Tevin Coleman lost inside leverage against Luke Kuechly on the frontside A-Gap.
Here's how it unfolded in real time.
Regardless of the throw, Norman was in prime position to make a play on the ball. He anticipated Julio's deep route beautifully and had him blanketed down the field.
Tally: 3/5, 25 Yards, 2 First Downs
Target #6: 3rd Quarter, 1:26, 3rd and 7, 8 Yard Gain
This completion was the same routine as the ones before. The Panthers played Cover 3 after threatening the blitz and Julio was able to make a sharp cut inside for the completion and the first down.
Final Tally: 4/6, 33 Yards, 3 First Downs, 0 Touchdowns
Norman had good coverage on Julio throughout the majority of the game, which explains his low number of targets before Norman left the game in the fourth quarter up 38-0.
Here are a few of the plays where Norman wasn't targeted, but he still had Julio locked down.
As Josh Norman and Julio Jones enter the prime of their careers, Norman definitely has the upper hand. Watching two titans of the game go toe to toe every play is highly entertaining, but Norman has proven to be Julio Jones's Kryptonite.
Hopefully the Falcons battle against the Panthers in Week Sixteen will be different. With the trajectory of the two teams, it's hard to confident in that.