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Josh Norman matchup will be critical for the Eagles in Washington

Philadelphia’s success Sunday could depend on Norman’s.

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Washington Redskins Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

A loss is never a good thing, but it is valuable for a team with a rookie quarterback to learn what it takes to get back to a winning mentality after a one-point loss in the NFL. The season is still young, and there is plenty of time for the Eagles to get back on top of the NFC East.

But first, Washington.

As the landing spot for some of the most notable former Eagles, the division rivalry is strong with this one. While Washington of course no longer has Donovan McNabb at quarterback, they do still harbor deep threat specialist and noted shit-talker DeSean Jackson. Most of Jackson’s issues with the Eagles organization stemmed from Chip Kelly and his regime ostensibly painting him as a thug in order to justify trading one of the team’s most lethal offensive weapons. The wideout may not play with as much aggression now that Doug Pederson leads the squad, but he’s also not one to take it easy against his former team.

The real test this week for Philadelphia will be on the other side of the ball. Secondary player, yet second to none, is the very verbal corner Josh Norman, who is still trying to show people he deserved his insane 5-year, $75 million contract. Despite his price tag, the cornerback has shown a few signs of weakness this season, and one of them can definitely be exploited by the Eagles.

Sometimes size matters

Norman earned every penny of his new contract in the post-season last year in Carolina. Despite not staying with the Panthers, he showed that he can be one of the more formidable defenders in the league and his penchant for jawing with receivers just adds to his motivation.

One thing that smack talk and training can’t account for? Size.

Norman is only 6’0, 190 pounds — which made it rather difficult for the cornerback to cover Browns’ receiver Terrelle Pryor, who stands at 6’4, 230 pounds, in Week 4. Pryor took advantage of the size differential throughout the entire first half, reaching for passes that Norman couldn’t and being more physical than his smaller defender. It’s the kind of man-to-man coverage quarterbacks can take advantage of -- just lob the ball high and let the receiver jump for it.

Washington has been criticized early on for running zone-coverage against some of the best wideouts in the league, letting their $75 million dollar man waste his talent. Knowing that this defensive scheme isn’t one the NFC East rival is looking to adjust, it’s definitely something Wentz and the Eagles can manipulate to their benefit.

As Carson Wentz gets more comfortable in the pocket, he will continue to spread the ball around to different targets. In Week 5, no receiver or tight end had double-digit looks, but they each had a handful. Facing off against Washington, Wentz would be wise to consider matchups more than distribution.

Good: Jordan Matthews vs Josh Norman

Matchups will be key on Sunday against Washington. Eagles’ receiver Jordan Matthews stands at 6’3, 203 pounds and more closely emulates the body type that most gave Norman issue so far this season. As a taller receiver, he provides an option for Wentz to heave the ball downfield and let Matthews work to get it if the slot wideout ever finds himself across from Norman.

The third year receiver saw 23 targets the first two games of the season combined, but saw only seven total targets the past two outings. This could be due to both inconsistencies and Wentz’ effort to get the ball to Agholor, Ertz, Green-Beckham and Huff as well. Matthews provides one of the best size advantage against Norman on Sunday, but will need to be more aggressive down field to come away with the ball.

Other good matchups: Zach Ertz (6’5, 249 pounds) and Dorial Green-Beckham (6’6, 225 pounds).

Bad: Nelson Agholor vs Josh Norman

On the other hand, if Norman matches up with second-year wideout Nelson Agholor, the Washington cornerback has a much greater chance of breaking up a pass or coming away with an interception. Agholor is much closer in size to Norman — both standing at 6’0 and Agholor five pounds lighter -- plus his inconsistency can play right into the veteran defender’s hands.

Coming off a Week 3 performance that didn’t include any drops by the receiver, Agholor’s Week 5 display was far more disappointing, catching two of seven targets for 27 yards. The young player will need to protect the ball Sunday, especially if he’s going up against Norman. We don’t want to add to Wentz’ remarkably low interception total.

Other bad matchups: Josh Huff (5’11, 203 pounds)

Norman may be one of the best secondary players in the league, but he isn’t bulletproof, and the start of the 2016 season has proven that. If the Eagles want to win on the road at Washington -- and get a leg up in the NFC East battle — they’ll need to adjust their passing scheme to account for size differentials.

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